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LT-Ecuador-US 1stLd-Writethru 02-09 Web

Aid suspension prompts anger

Ecuador has summoned the U.S. ambassador to express anger over a diplomat’s letter saying Washington is suspending $340,000 in annual aid because it was not allowed to veto police appointments, the foreign minister said Monday.

President Rafael Correa on Saturday ordered the expulsion of Armando Astorga, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement attache, who U.S. Embassy officials say already left the country after completing his assignment.

On Monday, State Department officials in Washington declined to comment immediately on whether the U.S. sought veto power over Ecuadorean officials, as Correa contends. U.S. Embassy officials in Quito were not available.

An embassy representative previously said aid to anti-smuggling police was suspended in response to an Ecuadorean government policy, but did not elaborate.

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Correa, a critic of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, said Astorga announced the aid suspension in a Jan. 8 letter that demanded the return of all donated equipment — including vehicles, furniture, cameras and phones.

Foreign Minister Fander Falconi met with U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges Sunday to formally lodge a complaint. The Ecuadorean government considers it "unacceptable" for U.S. diplomats to play a role in appointing police positions, he said.

In a statement issued Monday, he added that Quito intends to maintain respectful, cooperative ties with Washington.

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