Venezuela welcomes home seized aircraft's crew from Argentina

FILE PHOTO: Argentine authorities impound Venezuelan aircraft, Iranian state media say

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela on Friday welcomed home a dozen flight crew members detained in Argentina since June after their plane was held for suspected terrorism ties, according to state television.

"We are celebrating (their) arrival," Venezuelan Transportation Minister Ramon Velasquez told Telesur from Maiquetia Airport, near the capital of Caracas, praising the crew as "an example of revolutionary struggle."

An Argentine judicial chamber on Tuesday authorized the departure of 12 of 19 crew members.

The Emtrasur cargo plane, sold to Venezuela by Iran's Mahan Air, arrived in Buenos Aires in early June, according to flight tracking data, with both Venezuelan and Iranian crew members.

Its arrival caused a diplomatic stir for Argentina. The country was accused of supporting Iran and Venezuela, which are both under U.S. sanctions. Argentina grounded the plane then seized it in August after a request from a U.S. court.

Of the 12 released crew members, 11 are Venezuelan and one Iranian. A further three Venezuelan and four Iranian crew are still not allowed to leave Argentina.

Velazquez said this was "illegal" detention.

The detentions sparked protests in Venezuela, with several marches in Caracas urging the crew's return.

Iran and Venezuela maintain close ties in sectors like oil and industry and signed a 20-year cooperation plan in June.

(Reporting by Mayela Armas; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)