S. American leaders back right of asylum amid Snowden case

South American leaders defended the right to offer asylum Friday, pressing home their anger at claims of US spying in the region while intelligence leaker Edward Snowden's fate hangs in the balance.

The United States wants Snowden, currently in limbo in Moscow, arrested for disclosing details of Washington's massive electronic intelligence operations around the world.

Venezuela, along with leftist allies Bolivia and Nicaragua, have offered Snowden asylum but the 30-year-old American fugitive told rights activists in Moscow on Friday that he would seek asylum in Russia.

Europe also came under attack at a summit of Mercosur, the regional bloc, in Montevideo, after several EU states last week blocked their airspace and held up a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales, apparently on suspicion that Snowden was aboard.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Mercosur members had agreed to back the right to grant asylum.

"A doctrinal statement has been ratified to guarantee the right of asylum as a fundamental right," he said at the summit.

Maduro also called for measures to boost regional cyber-security following reports that Washington has been engaging in massive electronic spying in several Latin American countries, based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Snowden.

The American has been stranded at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport since arriving on a flight from Hong Kong June 23. His US passport has since been revoked.

Mercosur leaders said they would recall their ambassadors from Spain, France, Italy and Portugal for consultation in protest at the four countries' decisions to close their air space to the plane carrying Morales last week.

Earlier Maduro said Mercosur would demand "explanations and public apologies" from the four European countries.

And Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, whose country was reportedly a key target for US electronic surveillance, slammed NSA activities disclosed by the O Globo newspaper.

It was time for Mercosur "to set a limit...we must adopt pertinent measures to avoid a repetition of such situations," she said.

On Thursday, Rousseff's foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, said Brazil would push for joint action by Mercosur members in line with human rights conventions to counter such espionage activities.

And Argentine President Cristina Kirchner said Morales' air hold up brought back fears that her presidential plane could be impounded over a debt dispute.

"If I am aboard, I don't know iif they won't seize me as well," she said. "There are new forms of colonialism, more subtle than those practiced centuries ago." In January, the Argentine government had to rent a British aircraft for Kirchner's trip to Cuba, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Vietnam for fear that her official plane would be impounded in a debt dispute. Last year, a court in Ghana impounded the Argentine navy ship "Libertad" for two months following a request from a Cayman Islands-based investment firm that said Buenos Aires owed it $370 million.

Leaders of Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela, are holding summit talks here Friday following a meeting of their foreign ministers Thursday.

The bloc agreed Friday to reinstate Paraguay to Mercosur once rightwing tobacco tycoon Horacio Cartes, who was elected president in the April election, formally takes office on August 15.

Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay suspended Paraguay from Mercosur after then president Fernando Lugo was impeached by the Paraguayan Congress and removed from office on June 22, 2012.

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