ASUNCION Paraguay's new government ordered home its ambassador in Venezuela on Wednesday after accusing President Hugo Chavez's government of meddling in an attempt avert the impeachment of the leftist Paraguayan president's last month.
The swift impeachment of Paraguay's former President Fernando Lugo drew strong criticism from left-leaning governments in South America. Chavez ordered Venezuela's ambassador to leave Paraguay and halted oil shipments in protest.
Paraguay's new defense minister, Maria Liz Garcia, has accused Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro of participating in a meeting with senior Paraguayan military officials during the two-day process that ousted Lugo.
Garcia, who was appointed by new center-right President Federico Franco, said several days ago she had information that Maduro had urged the military officials to intervene to stop Lugo from being removed from office by Congress.
Maduro dismissed the accusations last week.
Garcia made her statement on Wednesday before a prosecutor who has opened an investigation.
Citing "the grave evidence of intervention by Venezuelan officials in the internal affairs of Paraguay," the Foreign Ministry ordered its ambassador to leave Caracas.
Earlier this week, Franco's government gave journalists copies of security camera footage showing Maduro walking down a corridor in the presidential palace. Other images showed military chiefs, but there were no pictures of them meeting.
Paraguay, a landlocked, soy-exporting nation of 6 million people that is one of the poorest in South America, has a long history of political instability and military rule - making accusations of military meddling a touchy subject.
Maduro traveled to Asuncion the day before Lugo's was removed from the presidency after a hearing that lasted hours. He went as part of a delegation of foreign ministers from countries belonging to the UNASUR regional grouping.
UNASUR and regional trade bloc Mercosur have suspended Paraguay until elections are held next year.
(Reporting by Daniela Desantis; Writing by Helen Popper; editing by Christopher Wilson)