Sunday, September 24, 2006

Venezuela rejects U.S. apologies after foreign minister detained

JG: It is apparent that Bush's thugs have started a new campaign of harassment of Venezuelan officials. They can't stand Fidel and Hugo being good friends.

Venezuela rejects U.S. apologies after foreign minister detained
Last Updated Sun, 24 Sep 2006 11:52:40 EDT
The Associated Press

Venezuela has complained to the United Nations after its foreign minister accused officials at a U.S. airport of illegally detaining him and then trying to frisk, handcuff and strip-search him.

U.S. officials called Saturday's incident at John F. Kennedy International Airport regrettable and said they had apologized to Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro called that insufficient and said Venezuela would seek a legal challenge through the UN to what he called a "flagrant violation of international law" and his diplomatic immunity.

He said Venezuela has lodged a protest with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and demanded that the incident be investigated so that those responsible are punished.

"We were detained for an hour and a half, threatened by police with being beaten," Maduro told reporters at Venezuela's mission to the UN in New York. "We hold the U.S. government responsible."

A UN diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said Maduro's trip was delayed because he had showed up late without a ticket, prompting extra screening.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke denied that Maduro was mistreated at the airport when he was selected for an added security check.

"He began to articulate his frustration with secondary screening right after he went through," a metal detector, Knocke said. "Port Authority officials confronted him when the situation became a ruckus."

Maduro said when one official ordered him to go to another room for a strip-search, he refused. He told CNN en Espanol that the official pushed him and yelled at him.

He told reporters the situation only worsened when he explained he was the Venezuelan foreign minister and presented his diplomatic passport.

Maduro said authorities at one point ordered him and other officials to spread their arms and legs and be frisked, but he said they forcefully refused. He said officers also threatened to handcuff him.

He said the incident prevented him from flying home Saturday.

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said it was a "regrettable incident" for which "the U.S. government has apologized."

Venezuela is among the top five suppliers of crude oil to the United States, but relations soured in 2002 after the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush swiftly recognized leaders who briefly ousted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in a coup. U.S. officials often call the outspoken leftist leader a threat to democracy.

The relationship took a particularly confrontational turn last week, when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, speaking at the opening session of the UN General Assembly, called Bush "the devil."

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