THE plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales home from Russia was rerouted to Austria last night after France and Portugal refused to let it cross their airspace because of suspicions that US whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board, the country’s foreign minister last night said.
But David Choquehuanca denied that Snowden was on the plane, which landed in Vienna, and said France and Portugal would have to explain why they cancelled authorisation for the plane.
“We don’t know who invented this lie. We want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales,” Choquehuanca said from Vienna, where the plane landed.
And the growing confusion over the whistleblowers location was added to with counter-reports that he was still in Moscow – and was hoping to fly to Ecuador
Morales, in Moscow for a summit of major gas exporters, said in an interview with Russia Today television that Bolivia would be willing to consider granting asylum to Snowden.
The rerouting of Morales’ plane came as a string of countries appeared to offer Snowden little hope of asylum.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro told Russian reporters that his country has not received an application for asylum from Snowden.
But Maduro also defended the former National Security Agency systems analyst who revealed the secret US electronic surveillance programme called Prism.
“He did not kill anyone and did not plant a bomb,” Mr Maduro. “What he did was tell a great truth in an effort to prevent wars.
“He deserves protection under international and humanitarian law.”
In the aftermath of leaking the spying secrets, Mr Snowden appeared in Hong Kong and then flew to Russia. He had initially booked flights to Havana, Cuba, and then on to Caracas, Venezuela, before becoming trapped in legal limbo at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. He is unable to fly out because he has no legal travel documents – but he has no Russian visa to leave the airport.
Last night, Mr Maduro again spoke out in support of Mr Snowden, without giving any more indication of whether he would help him leave Russia.
He said: “This young man of 29 was brave enough to say that we need to protect the world from the American imperial elite, so who should protect him? All of mankind, people all over the world must protect him.”
Mr Snowden, who recently turned 30, withdrew a bid for asylum in Russia when he learned the terms Moscow had set out, according to President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Mr Putin said on Monday that Russia was ready to shelter Mr Snowden as long as he stopped leaking US secrets.
At the same time, Mr Putin said he had no plans to turn over Mr Snowden to America.
Mr Snowden has applied for asylum in Venezuela, Bolivia and 18 other countries, according to WikiLeaks, the website which has specialised in leaking US secrets and which has been advising him. Many European countries on the list – including Austria, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland – said he would have to make his request in person on their soil.