Venezuela to protest foreign minister's treatment at New York airport

Tuesday, September 26th 2006, 3:45 pm
By: News On 6

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday that Venezuela will summon the U.S. ambassador to issue a diplomatic protest because the foreign minister was temporarily detained by authorities at a New York airport. Chavez warned Venezuela could take similar measures if it happens again.

Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro says authorities at John F. Kennedy International Airport attempted to frisk and handcuff him Saturday as he tried to catch a flight after attending the U.N. General Assembly session.

``We're going to put out a protest note, and the U.S. ambassador in Venezuela will be called,'' Chavez told reporters. ``And in that protest note, it says 'If that happens again, we would be obligated to give at least equal treatment to whomever.'''

Chavez also slammed U.S. officials for suggesting that Venezuela would make the U.N. Security Council unworkable if the South American nation were to win its bid against U.S.-backed Guatemala for a rotating council seat.

``It's more evidence of how the U.S. government sees itself as the owner of the world,'' Chavez told reporters at the presidential palace. ``It's the United States that should leave the Security Council.''

U.S. officials have apologized to Venezuela over the incident at the airport Saturday, when Maduro said he was detained for 90 minutes in what he called a flagrant violation of international law and his diplomatic immunity.

Maduro said when one official ordered him to go to another room for a strip-search, he refused. 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.

However, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials have denied that Maduro was mistreated, and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton on Monday derided Maduro's protest as ``street theater'' and propaganda.

The incident came after Chavez called President Bush ``the devil'' at the United Nations, increasing already tense relations between Caracas and Washington. The U.S. government has often criticized Chavez, warning he is a destabilizing force in Latin America and questioning his commitment to democracy.