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Americas

Morales back in Bolivia after Snowden plane drama

© AFP

Video by William HILDERBRANDT , Katerina VITTOZZI , Shona BHATTACHARYYA

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-07-04

Bolivian President Evo Morales arrived in La Paz late on Wednesday, describing his unplanned 14-hour stopover in Vienna - amid suspicions US fugitive Edward Snowden was on board his personal jet - as "an open provocation" to South America.

Bolivian President Evo Morales arrived home to a hero’s welcome late on Wednesday, saying some European countries’ refusal to let his plane enter their airspace because of suspicions it carried fugitive US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden was “an open provocation” aimed at all of South America.

Morales was greeted by his Cabinet and cheering, fist-pumping crowds at La Paz’s airport after a dramatic journey from Moscow that ignited a diplomatic furore when his plane had to make an unscheduled stop in Vienna on Tuesday evening.

Morales urged European countries to “free themselves” from the United States, the AP reported.

Morales speaks upon his return to la paz

“This was an open provocation toward a continent, not just a president,” he said. “North American imperialism uses its people to terrify and intimidate us. I just want to say they will never frighten us because we are a people of dignity and sovereignty.”

Other Latin American leaders were also fuming over the plane incident, with heads of state in the 12-nation South American bloc Unasur denouncing the “unfriendly and unjustifiable acts.”

The bloc said a group of leaders from member countries would hold an emergency summit in Bolivia on Thursday to discuss the matter. Unasur includes close leftist allies of Bolivia like Venezuela, Ecuador and Argentina as well as more centrist governments like those in Chile and Brazil.

Meanwhile, Russia on Thursday added to criticism of France, Spain and Portugal for delaying the Bolivian president’s flight home.

“The actions of the authorities of France, Spain and Portugal could hardly be considered friendly actions towards Bolivia ... Russia calls on the international community to comply strictly with international legal principles,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Earlier on Wednesday, Bolivia accused the United States of trying to “kidnap” Morales, after his plane was denied permission to fly over France and Portugal, according to Reuters.

The Bolivian government said it had filed a formal complaint with the United Nations and was studying other legal avenues to prove its rights had been violated under international law.

Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Sacha Llorenti, said, “We have no doubt that it was an order from the White House. By no means should a diplomatic plane with the president be diverted from its route and forced to land in another country.”

The Bolivian foreign ministry also said it would reject the extradition request made by US about Edward Snowden. “It is a surprising, illegal, groundless and insinuating request that will be immediately and categorically rejected,” the foreign minister said in a statement, according to the AFP.

Snowden was not on the plane when it landed in Vienna, an Austrian official said. He is believed to be stranded in the transit lounge of a Moscow airport and the United States has been trying to get its hands on him since he revealed details of its secret surveillance programs last month.

‘No one else on board’

The Bolivian plane was taking Morales home from an energy conference in Moscow when it landed at Vienna airport. Austrian Deputy Chancellor Michael Spindelegger said Morales personally denied that Snowden was aboard his jet and agreed to a voluntary inspection.

“Based on this invitation from Bolivia, a colleague boarded the plane, looked at everything and there was no one else on board,” Spindelegger told reporters.

‘There was contradictory information,’ says Hollande

But Bolivian Defence Minister Ruben Saavedra said Morales’s plane was not searched because Morales had refused Austrian authorities entry.

The Obama administration has advised foreign governments that allowing Snowden to land on their territory could seriously damage their relations with the United States, US and European national security sources said.

The sources said the administration believed such lobbying played a role in persuading countries to which Snowden had applied for asylum to reject or not respond to his bid.

The AFP reported that French foreign minister Laurent Fabius called his Bolivian counterpart to ease tensions and assure him that Paris never intended to ban Morales’s plane from entering its airspace.

“Clearance was given as soon as we were informed that the plane was carrying President Morales,” he said in a statement, adding that the Bolivian leader was “always welcome in our country.” French President François Hollande also said that he “immediately” authorised the plane to fly over French territory.

International agreements allow civilian airplanes to overfly countries without obtaining permission before every flight. But state aircraft, including Air Force One, which carries the US president, must obtain clearance before they cross into foreign territory.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-07-04

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