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Ecuador says could halt EU talks over migration law

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador threatened to halt Andean trade talks with the European Union on Saturday after its leaders endorsed tougher detention rules for illegal immigrants.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said the rule allowing EU countries to detain illegal immigrants for 18 months violates the human rights of migrant workers.

“We could even suspend those negotiations. What do we have to talk about with a union of countries that criminalizes immigrants?” Correa said during his weekly radio address. “It will be very hard to talk business and ignore human rights.”

Human rights groups say the law will encourage authorities to lock up more illegal immigrants.

Ecuador holds the temporary presidency of the Andean Community, which includes Peru, Bolivia and Colombia and last year started negotiating a trade and cooperation agreement with the European Union.

Millions of poor Latin Americans migrate to Europe in search of better jobs, making them a key source of revenues via remittances for their families back home.

Correa says the crackdown on illegal immigrants is unfair to Latin America, which welcomed millions of Europeans after Latin countries became independent nations and again after World War Two.

Correa’s ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a leftist former paratrooper, earlier threatened to suspend oil sales to the 27-nation bloc and dubbed the new immigration rule “shameful.”

European leaders said Chavez misunderstood the law, which an EU official said was needed to convince voters to be more accepting of legal immigrants.

Reporting by Alonso Soto