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Uruguay Formally Ends its Presidency of Mercosur Trade Bloc

FILE - Brazil's Ambassador to Uruguay Paulo Estivallet, left, Paraguay's Foreign Affairs Minister Eladio Loizaga, second from left, Uruguay's Foreign Affairs Minister Rodolfo Nin, third from left, and Argentina's Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Foradori give a press conference after a Mercosur meeting on the transition of the organization's presidency in Montevideo, July 11, 2016.

Uruguay has ended its term as president of the Mercosur trade bloc, the foreign ministry said on Friday.

The ministry said in a statement that there are no legal arguments for blocking the transfer of the presidency to Venezuela. But Uruguay stopped short of announcing that Venezuela would now lead the South American group, saying that the bloc's presidency "has always been guided by the utmost respect'' for its institutional norms and international laws.

The presidency of Mercosur is supposed to be rotated every six months in alphabetical order. But newly installed conservative governments in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay have balked at passing the baton to Venezuela, arguing that President Nicolas Maduro's crackdown on the opposition goes against the spirit of the trade bloc's founding charter.

Some critics even want to go further and have Venezuela suspended from the group altogether, arguing that Maduro's disavowal of the opposition-controlled National Assembly violates the democratic order. Amid the impasse, a summit of Mercosur's leaders was abruptly cancelled this month.

Venezuela became Mercosur's fifth full member in 2012.