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Brazil arrests US pilot over gesture
( 2004-01-15 09:15) (Agencies)

An American Airlines pilot was arrested by federal police Wednesday after making an obscene gesture when being photographed at the airport as part of a newly imposed entry requirement for U.S. citizens, federal police said.

Ten crewmembers from the airplane arriving from Miami were also detained, police said.

Brazil imposed requirements that Americans be fingerprinted and photographed at entry points in response the similar rules in the United States for citizens of Brazil and other countries whose citizens need visas to enter.

The pilot, Dale Robbin Hirsh, lifted his middle finger while undergoing the new security process, said Francisco Baltazar da Silva, chief of Sao Paulo's federal police.

The pilot was taken to a federal courthouse, where he could be charged with showing disrespect to authorities, a crime in Brazil punishable by between six months and two years in jail or a fine, da Silva said. He could also be deported without any further legal action.

American Airlines spokeswoman Martha Pantin said the incident was the result of a misunderstanding.

"The company apologizes to the Brazilian government, the airport authorities, the police or anyone else who may have perceived anything they believe to have been disrespectful," Pantin said.

The incident is the latest flap in growing diplomatic spat between Brazil and the United States.

The Brazilian requirement was first imposed at the order of the federal judge but on Monday it became the government's official policy, citing the diplomatic concept of "reciprocity."

On Monday, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva asked U.S. President Bush to drop the visa requirement for Brazilians entering the United States, while Brazil's Foreign Ministry said the requirement could lead to a souring between the two nations.

"Recent episodes, such as the new system of identification of travelers, create a negative climate in public opinion with inevitable political implications, which is not in the interest of the two countries," the ministry said.

But in Rio de Janeiro, tourism officials are trying to console American tourists arriving at the airport by treating them to samba music and dancers and giving them flowers, jewelry and T-shirts.

Brazil currently requires Americans to have visas to enter Brazil because of reciprocity.

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