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Argentina's Macri says Mercosur could permanently expel Venezuela

Argentina's President Mauricio Macri speaks during meeting with ministers and regional leaders at the headquarters of the South American Soccer Confederation (CONMEBOL) in Luque, Paraguay March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Adorno

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine President Mauricio Macri said on Thursday that Venezuela could be permanently expelled from the South American trade bloc Mercosur if its government does not change its behaviour.

In an interview with CNN’s Spanish-language service, Macri toughened his previous calls for Venezuela to respect democracy and went beyond the message of other bloc members as opposition protesters and security officers clashed in Caracas.

“If there is not a dramatic, absolute change in behaviour, there is nothing left but the definitive expulsion of Venezuela from Mercosur,” Macri said.

“There has to be an electoral calendar, the political prisoners have to be released and there has to be a clear demonstration of respect for the separation of powers,” he added.

In December, Venezuela was suspended from Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Argentina holds the temporary presidency of the bloc.

On Saturday, foreign ministers from the four countries signed a joint statement calling on the Venezuelan government to respect human rights and democratic institutions.

Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra told reporters the separation of powers in Venezuela was still not functioning after the Supreme Court overturned its decision to annul Congress.

Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Peter Cooney