South Americans affirm asylum right in US leak case

South American leaders agreed to a statement here Friday reaffirming the fundamental right of asylum, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Friday amid a test of wills with Washington over the fate of US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

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

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 contractor Edward Snowden.

Venezuela, along with leftist allies Bolivia and Nicaragua, have offered Snowden asylum but he told rights activists in Moscow Friday that he would seek asylum in Russia.

The 30-year-old has been stranded at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport since ariving on a flight from Hong Kong June 23 before his US passport was revoked.

Snowden has infuriated Washington by disclosing details of massive US electronic intelligence operations around the world.

"We began work on guaranteeing cyber-security," Maduro said of the Mercosur summit, noting that the Snowden case highlighted the need for a debate on US spying activities.

Maduro said the Mercosur trading bloc would demand "explanations and public apologies" from four European countries which closed their air space to a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales last week, apparently on suspicion that Snowden was aboard.

Several Latin American countries have called on Spain, France, Italy and Portugal to apologize, saying that the Morales' treatment was an insult to Latin America as a whole.

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

Venezuela is taking over as pro tempore president of the bloc since Paraguay remains suspended.

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.

Paraguay is scheduled to be reinstated once rightwing tobacco tycoon Horacio Cartes, who was elected president in the April election, formally takes office on August 15.