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Portugal summons US ambassador over air base staff cuts

Portugal said Thursday it had summoned the US ambassador to protest against Washington’s plans to reduce the number of Portuguese employees at a US air base in Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores islands.

The US ambassador to Portugal, Roberto Sherman, was told during the meeting on Wednesday that Washington should wait until an upcoming meeting between officials from the two countries before going ahead with the staff cuts, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The United States on Monday notified Portugal that it would lay off some of the 900 civilian Portuguese workers at its Lajes base on Terceira Island in the Azores.

The Pentagon announced on January 8 that it planned to reduce the number of US civil and military personnel at the base from 650 to 165.

Sharman estimated at the time that the number of civilian Portuguese employees would be cut to 400.

Portuguese and US officials are scheduled to meet to discuss the planned staff cuts at Lajes in either May or June.

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho in January criticised Washington’s decision, which is part of a broader plan to reduce its military contingent in Europe by about 1,200 personnel.

The air base is the main employer on Terceira Island, which is home to 56,000 people and located about 1,900 kilometres (1,200 miles) west of the Portuguese mainland.

The first treaty allowing the United States to use the Lajes base was signed in 1951.

Lajes was a key staging base for US airborne missions during the Gulf War.