South American leaders to discuss US spying

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Leaders of a South American trade bloc that includes Brazil and Venezuela meet Friday for a summit that will focus on allegations of US spying that have outraged US allies and rivals alike.

The group of Mercosur nations, which also includes Argentina and Uruguay, was due to discuss the possibility of readmitting suspended member Paraguay into the fold during talks in Montevideo.

But the region has been consumed by reports in Brazilian daily O Globo that the US National Security Agency conducted electronic espionage in several Latin American nations, notably allies Mexico, Brazil and Colombia as well as leftist rival Venezuela.

Foreign ministers met Thursday to prepare the summit that will bring together Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, Argentina's Cristina Kirchner and Uruguayan host Jose Mujica.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told AFP that his counterparts agreed that Mercosur should "condemn the surveillance and global control being developed by the US government, which violates the privacy of citizens and sovereignty of nations."

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said the South American nations could take "action within certain legal frameworks" before "multilateral" organizations, but he did not give more details.

The case of US fugitive Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor whose leaks have rocked the US government, will also be discussed amid open political asylum offers from Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

Jaua told AFP that Snowden has yet to respond to his country's asylum offer and that no contact has been made with the 30-year-old computer whiz, who has been stranded and out of sight in a Moscow airport for almost three weeks.

Bolivian President Evo Morales was also invited to the summit, and Jaua said his counterparts would likely issue a stern condemnation after several European nations were accused of denying him acess to their airspace last week as he flew home from Russia.

Morales has accused France, Italy, Spain and Portugal of blocking their airspace over suspicions that Snowden was hiding in his jet, forcing him to make an unscheduled layover in Vienna that he branded a "13-hour kidnapping."

Turning to their original agenda, the leaders will seek common ground to reinstate Paraguay, which was suspended after then president Fernando Lugo was impeached by his Congress and removed from office last year.

Uruguay's Foreign Minister Luis Almagro said there is "more willingness from every Mercosur member that this will happen on August 15," when Paraguayan president-elect Horacio Cartes takes office.