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Peru's Finance Minister Alfredo Thorne attends the Thomson Reuters Economic and Financial Forum in Lima, Peru November 3, 2016. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo - RTX2RRKX


LIMA (Reuters) - Peru's opposition-controlled Congress called on Finance Minister Alfredo Thorne to answer questions on Thursday over accusations that he improperly tried to influence an airport contract, but the minister said he was too busy working to attend the hearing.

Earlier this month local television station Panamericana released a recording of Thorne appearing to ask Edgar Alarcon, head of the comptroller's office, to greenlight the contract for an airport near Cusco. Thorne is heard asking him to approve a $520 million (407.5 million pounds) airport contract in exchange for a bigger budget.

"My work will not allow me to go to Congress today, but tomorrow I will appear before the inspection committee as agreed," Thorne said in a Tweet. But the committee chairman had already cancelled Friday's session.

The refusal to immediately appear before the committee was expected to further sour Congress's already strained relationship with President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

"It looks like a declaration of rebellion," said local political analyst Fernando Tuesta. "This kind of confrontation between the executive and the legislative branch will further heat up the political climate."

The government withdrew the 40-year-operating contract on May 22 after the comptroller released an official report pointing to irregularities in the contract.

Alarcon had publicly spoken of alleged irregularities prior to his conversation with Thorne. The controversy pressured Kuczynski's approval ratings lower this month.

Thorne has denied offering a quid pro quo and said his talk with Alarcon lasted nearly an hour and that there were gaps in the released recording.

Congress could vote to censure him, which could force a resignation.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Caroline Stauffer and Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Bernard Orr and David Gregorio)

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The citizens' meeting

The citizens' meeting

The citizens' meeting