Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden on Monday skipped a Cuba-bound flight he was booked on and remains in Moscow, media reports said. He is expected to flee to Ecuador, whose government is considering his request for asylum.
There was no sign that former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden was aboard a Russian plane bound for Cuba as it prepared to take off on Monday, a Reuters correspondent on the plane said.
A flight attendant also said Snowden was not on the plane and the seat he had been expected to occupy was taken by another passenger.
Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) who leaked the details of secret US surveillance programmes, was expected to fly to Havana and then possibly continue to Ecuador, where he could receive political asylum as the South American country examines his request.
“We are analyzing it with a lot of responsibility,'' Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, told reporters at a hotel in Vietnam, where he is on a state visit. “It has to do with freedom of expression and with the security of citizens around the world.”
Patino had revealed earlier via his Twitter account that Snowden had made the asylum request. He further Tweeted that an answer would be delivered at a press conference from Vietnam at 7pm (12:00 GMT) on Monday.
The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks also announced that Edward Snowden “is bound for the Republic of Ecuador”.
Snowden left Hong Kong on an Aeroflot flight over the weekend. On Sunday afternoon, an Aeroflot representative told the Associated Press that Snowden had arrived in Moscow and would fly out to Cuba on a Havana-bound flight at 2.05 pm (11.05 am Paris time).
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted a source at the airline as saying Snowden would then fly from Havana to the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.
Washington has urged Ecuador, Cuba and Venezuela not to admit Snowden in their territories, according to a senior Obama administration official quoted by CNN on Sunday.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was unaware of Snowden’s whereabouts or travel plans.
Assange’s WikiLeaks steps in
In a statement, WikiLeaks also said it had helped Snowden find “political asylum” and that he is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisers from the organisation.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said last week he would not leave the sanctuary of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London even if Sweden stopped pursuing sexual assault claims against him because he feared arrest on the orders of the United States.
The Hong Kong government said in a statement Sunday that Snowden has been allowed to leave for a “third country'' because a US request to extradite him did not fully comply with Hong Kong law.
Snowden, who had been hiding out in Hong Kong since identifying himself as the source of the leaks, left “on his own accord” and “through a lawful and normal channel”, said the statement.
Wherever Snowden ends up, the move is bound to infuriate Washington.
US authorities have charged Snowden with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorised person, with the latter two charges falling under the US Espionage Act.
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On Saturday, the United States requested Hong Kong, a special administrative region (SAR) of China, extradite Snowden back home.
“The US government earlier on made a request to the HKSAR government for the issue of a provisional warrant of arrest against Mr Snowden,” the Hong Kong government said in a statement.
“Since the documents provided by the US government did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law, the HKSAR government has requested the US government to provide additional information ... As the HKSAR government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong,” the statement continued.
China calls US 'biggest villain'
Hong Kong, a former British colony, reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 and although it retains an independent legal system, and its own extradition laws, Beijing has control over Hong Kong’s foreign affairs.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said earlier this month that Russia would consider granting Snowden asylum if he were to ask for it and pro-Kremlin lawmakers supported the idea, but there has been no indication he has done so.
Iceland refused on Friday to say whether it would grant asylum to Snowden, a former employee of contractor Booz Allen Hamilton who worked at an NSA facility in Hawaii.
The South China Morning Post earlier quoted Snowden offering new details about the United States’ spy activities, including accusations of US hacking of Chinese mobile telephone companies and targeting China’s Tsinghua University.
Documents previously leaked by Snowden revealed that the NSA has access to vast amounts of internet data such as emails, chat rooms and video from large companies, including Facebook and Google, under a government programme known as Prism.
The government statement said Hong Kong had written to the United States “requesting clarification” of earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies.
“The HKSAR Government will continue to follow up on the matter, so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong,” it said.
China’s Xinhua news agency, referring to Snowden’s accusations about the hacking of Chinese targets, said they were “clearly troubling signs”.
It added: “They demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyber attacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age.”
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-06-23