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US denies Venezuelan leader airspace access as Maduro says delegation to UN denied visas

Nicolas Maduro (file)
The online news portal of TV5

CARACAS -- (UPDATE - 10:29 a.m.) The United States has refused permission for President Nicolas Maduro's plane to pass through its airspace when the Venezuelan leader travels to China this weekend, Venezuela's foreign minister said Thursday.

Maduro himself also accused the US of denying visas to members of the Venezuelan delegation to next week's United Nations General Assembly in New York.

"You are required to give visas to the whole Venezuelan delegation. We will not accept that you deny a visa to Minister (Wilmer) Barrientos, nor to the head of the military, nor to any other member of the delegation," Maduro said in a fiery speech in which he did not confirm whether he will attend the meeting himself.

The Venezuelan government had received the word from US authorities the plane was denied rights to American airspace over the Atlantic, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told reporters in decrying the decision as an "insult."

"We denounce this as another insult of North American imperialism against the government," Jaua said.

"No one can deny airspace to a plane carrying a president on an international state visit. There is no valid argument to refuse airspace."

The foreign minister, who is set to travel with Maduro to Beijing, said he hopes US authorities will "rectify the error," which he blamed on lower-level officials.

Jaua said Maduro will not delay his trip, so the government is exploring alternative flight plans.

Venezuela and the United States were often at odds during the 14-year rule of the recently deceased Hugo Chavez and the two countries have not had ambassadors in each others' capitals since 2010.