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Snowden expands asylum requests to 20 countries
Fugitive US intelligence specialist Edward Snowden has broken his silence to accuse the Obama administration of pressuring countries to turn him away as he expanded his asylum requests to a total of 20 countries.
Intelligence whistleblower and fugitive Edward Snowden has expanded his request for political asylum to several different countries, but abandoned his petition to Russia after President Vladimir Putin told him he would have to stop leaking US secrets.
“He abandoned his intention and his request to receive the chance of staying in Russia,” Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Tuesday.
Snowden has now appealed a total of 20 states for protection, while accusing the administration of President Barak Obama of pressuring foreign leaders to deny him shelter.
Suspected of hiding in Moscow’s Sheremetvevo airport since last week, Snowden broke a 10-day silence Monday, releasing a statement through the WikiLeaks organization sharply criticizing Washington.
“Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person,” Snowden said. “Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.
“Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.”
Snowden, who has revealed information about a vast Internet and telephone surveillance programme by the US National Security Agency (NSA) – which has allegedly targeted European diplomatic missions – had originally requested asylum in Ecuador, Iceland and Russia.
WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group made famous for publishing thousands of sensitive US diplomatic cables in the past, has taken Snowden under its wing and on Monday helped him file for asylum in a host of new countries.
In a statement, WikiLeaks said it had filed 18 additional petitions on Snowden’s behalf.
The list of countries included Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela, the group said.
Obama plays down spying allegations
Snowden’s expanded requests come as Obama contends with angry reactions from EU leaders over the NSA purportedly eavesdropping on European diplomats in Washington, New York and Brussels.
French President François Hollande demanded Monday that the US immediately stop any such spying and suggested the widening controversy could jeopardize next week’s opening of talks over a possible US-EU free trade agreement.
“We cannot accept this kind of behaviour from partners and allies,” Hollande said on French television.
Earlier, Berlin offered a sharp rebuke with government spokesman Steffen Seibert telling the US: “We’re not in the Cold War anymore.”
Obama, on an official tour of Africa, tried to play down the scandal on Monday, saying Europeans “are some of the closest allies that we have in the world” and that listening in on other countries’ leaders was commonplace for intelligence services.
“I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders. That’s how intelligence services operate,” he said.
The US president also confirmed that high-level talks about Snowden’s case between Moscow and Washington had taken place.
Meanwhile, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa acknowledged that US Vice President Joseph Biden had appealed to him directly via telephone to deny Snowden asylum, but added that the exchange had been “very friendly” and that no pressure had been applied.
Correa also suggested that Snowden’s search for asylum could be resolved in Moscow.
"I think that if he is on Russian territory and makes an asylum request in Russia, the situation can be processed and resolved there," he said from the presidential palace in Quito.