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Morales’s plane en route amid Snowden scandal

Photo: AFP

Bolivian President Evo Morales took off from Vienna on Tuesday after being diverted and held up for more than 14 hours amid suspicions that US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board his jet.


An airplane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales from Moscow was diverted and held up in Vienna for more than 14 hours after several European countries forbade the Bolivian-bound jet to travel through their airspace amid suspicions that US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board.

Morales’s plane departed from Vienna around 11:45am (0945GMT), but not before the incident sparked a major diplomatic row.

Bolivia's Ambassador to the United Nations in New York Sacha Llorenti said the South American country would file a UN complaint over the European airspace blockade.

France's foreign ministry told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday that the presidential plane had been allowed to traverse French airspace, denying earlier reports that France had also banned the jet from its territory.

Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca initially accused France and Portugal of closing its airspace.

Defence Minister Ruben Saavedra, travelling with Morales, told an impromptu press conference at Vienna airport that he and the president had “no contact” with Snowden.

Austrian officials insisted Snowden was not on board after searching the plane, a move Llorenti described as “an act of aggression and a violation of international law”.

President Morales had been in Moscow for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders. Snowden, wanted in the US for uncovering a vast surveillance operation by the National Security Agency, has been holed up in a Moscow airport since June 23, from where he has reportedly requested asylum from 20 different countries.

‘We are all Bolivia!’

The incident has sparked a diplomatic scandal, with Latin American leaders convening an emergency Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) meeting to discuss the matter, according to Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez.

In a midnight press conference from the city of La Paz, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia said that Morales had been “kidnapped by imperialism” in Europe. “President Evo is no criminal. He had the right to immunity on his flight,” Garcia said.

Meanwhile in Vienna, Defence Minister Saavedra pointed an accusatory finger at Washington. “We want to declare very firmly that it was an American story that Edward Snowden was on this flight,” he said from the airport lounge.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa called on his regional counterparts to form a unified response to the incident that he labelled an “affront” not just to Morales, but the entire region.

“This is a critical moment for UNASUR: Either we are colonies or we assert our independence, sovereignty and dignity. We are all Bolivia!” Correa said via the micro-blogging website Twitter.

The rerouting of the plane follows Correa’s revelation on Saturday that US vice-president Joe Biden asked Ecuador to turn down an asylum request from Snowden.

Meanwhile, the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks group said Tuesday it had filed asylum requests on behalf of Snowden to several other Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua andVenezuela.

However, Quito and Caracas have expressed reticence at approving the asylum request, and Brazil flatly said it would refuse to answer it.

Amid the international fallout over the US spying allegations, Ecuador’s foreign minister on Tuesday said that a surveillance microphone had been uncovered at its embassy in London, where WikiLeaks figurehead Julian Assange has been camping out for over a year.

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