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September 26, 2017

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Mercosur trade bloc poised to suspend Paraguay: Brazil FM

MENDOZA, Argentina -- The Mercosur regional trade bloc is poised to fully suspend member state Paraguay on Friday following the snap impeachment of former President Fernando Lugo, Brazil's foreign minister said.

"We are working on a statement that will be discussed tomorrow by the presidents ... on the suspension of Paraguay from Mercosur," Antonio Patriota told reporters Thursday.

"We deeply regret this situation but we find that democracy is no longer in full force" in Paraguay, he said on the sidelines of a Mercosur summit in Argentina.

The four-nation Mercosur — which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay — had already temporarily suspended Asuncion from the bloc and barred Lugo's successor Federico Franco from participating in the summit.

Lugo's abrupt ouster last week on charges of malfeasance linked to a deadly land dispute has been widely criticized by other Latin American leaders, who say the president did not have time to mount a proper defense.

Paraguay's new defense minister, Maria Liz Garcia de Arnold, meanwhile accused Venezuela of urging the military to intercede on Lugo's behalf shortly before he was removed from office.

She said that while Lugo was on trial in the Senate, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro urged the military leadership to intervene.

"The foreign minister harangued them to respond to the situation under way and which affected the president," she said. "He asked them to respond at that moment, in keeping with what would happen to ex-President Lugo."

But the armed forces commanders opted to respect the decision of Congress, which an hour later voted 39-4 to impeach Lugo.

Maduro denied Arnold's allegations, saying they had "no basis in reality" and that the new government was "illegitimate."

Venezuela and Ecuador have withdrawn their ambassadors from Paraguay and President Hugo Chavez has ordered the suspension of petroleum exports to the country, which relies on Venezuela for some 30 percent of its needs.

On Friday, leaders meet again in Mendoza under the aegis of the Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, to discuss the situation in Paraguay.

Paraguay's foreign ministry said it would not accept resolutions by the group, arguing it had not been legally convened under UNASUR's charter.

Meanwhile, Lugo told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper of Brazil that he does not rule out running for president next year, even though Paraguay's constitution bars two-term presidents.

(Related story on page 6)

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