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South American bloc accuses US of violating privacy

South American Mercosur bloc leaders have told the US to stop alleged spying on telecommunications in their region. The five-nation group insisted on their right to offer asylum to US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Mercosur leaders meeting in Uruguay's capital Montevideo concluded their summit on Friday by accusing the United States of violating the rights of citizens in South America to privacy and information.

"We emphatically reject the interception of telecommunications and espionage activities in our countries," said the leaders of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in a joint statement.

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Snowden meets rights activists in Moscow

In her closing remarks, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez described the reported US monitoring of Internet traffic as a "new form of colonialism."

"It is more subtle than it was two centuries ago, when they came with armies to take our silver and gold," Fernandez said.

Snowden seeks asylum in Russia

The Mercosur summit coincided with reports from Moscow that Snowden planned to seek temporary asylum in Russia. He has stayed in a Moscow airport transit zone for nearly three weeks while making numerous asylum requests.

Asylum offers made by Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua were cast in doubt last week. Four European countries closed their airspace to a plane from Moscow carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales, apparently on suspicion that Snowden was aboard.

At the Montevideo summit, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Mercosur should demand "explanations and public apologies" from Spain, France, Italy and Portugal for closing their airspace to Morales.

Washington warns Moscow

US President Barack Obama has warned of serious costs to any country that might provide Snowden with refuge.

On Friday, Snowden reportedly told rights activists at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport that he hoped to stay in Russia until he had "safe passage" to Latin America.

He has not been seen publicly since he arrived from Hong Kong on June 23.

On Friday, the US State Department repeated its demand that Russia send Snowden to the United States, saying granting him asylum would "raise concerns."

The White House said President Barack Obama would speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin late on Friday.

Snowden, a former NSA contractor, infuriated Washington last month by disclosing documents that appear to show massive US electronic surveillance around the world.

ipj/slk (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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