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Brazilian Foreign Minister Patriota resigns amid Bolivia diplomatic row

Brazil's foreign minister has resigned amid a controversy surrounding a Bolivian opposition senator. The politician is wanted for corruption but was granted asylum and escorted out of the country by a Brazilian diplomat.

Brazil's Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio de Aguiar Patriota (L)) observes a minute of silence about a nightclub fire which killed at least 245 people in southern Brazil on Sunday, as they attend the closing ceremony of the summit of the Community of Latin American, Caribbean States and European Union (CELAC-UE) in Santiago January 27, 2013. REUTERS/Victor R Caivano/Pool

Antonio de Aguiar Patriota Aussenminister Brasilien 2013

President Dilma Rousseff accepted the resignation of Antonio Patriota on Monday and UN Ambassador Luis Alberto Figueiredo was named as his replacement, according to a statement from her office.

Patriota's exit follows Bolivian Senator Roger Pinto's arrival in Brazil after spending 15 months holed up in the country's embassy in La Paz. Pinto, an opponent of Bolivian President Evo Morales, had been granted asylum by Brazil. He traveled to Brazil over the weekend, escorted by Brazilian marines for the 22 hour, 1,600 kilometer (1,000 mile) drive to the southwestern city of Corumba.

Pinto had been accused of corruption and was sentenced to a year in prison. He denied the accusation, instead alleging links between the government and drug traffickers. He sought refuge in the Brazilian embassy last year, claiming to be a victim of political persecution with threats on his life.

Diplomatic row

His situation complicated relations between La Paz and Brasilia. Brazil granted Pinto asylum in May 2012, but Bolivia refused to allow him to leave the country. Morales said granting the senator asylum was a "mistake" and Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca expressed his "deep concern over the transgression of the principle of reciprocity and international courtesy."

"Under no condition could Senator Pinto leave the country without a safe conduct pass," he said.

But the decision to smuggle Pinto out of the country was reportedly made out of concern over his health. Eduardo Saboia, a diplomat stationed in La Paz, told Globo television that Pinto was a "politically persecuted person" and he'd made a personal decision to facilitate the escape "because there was an imminent threat to the life and dignity of the senator."

On Monday Pinto released an open letter through his rightwing National Convergence party in La Paz, thanking Brazil's "humanitarian decision to ... help me achieve my freedom."

"My exit is proof to Morales that good prevails in the end," he wrote, adding that he'd continue to speak out against "narcotrafficking, corruption, [and] abuse of power in Bolivia."

Brazil's foreign ministry said Sunday it was investigating how Pinto was able to leave the embassy and that appropriate measures would be taken.

dr/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)