Bolivian Leader’s Plane Rerouted on Snowden Fear

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP/Reuters) -
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, right, attends a ceremony for naming a street after late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday. Maduro said Tuesday that his country has not received an application for asylum from Edward Snowden. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, right, attends a ceremony for naming a street after late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday. Maduro said Tuesday that his country has not received an application for asylum from Edward Snowden. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

The plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales home from Russia was rerouted to Austria on Tuesday after France and Portugal refused to let it cross their airspace because of suspicions that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was on board, the country’s foreign minister said.

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca denied that Snowden was on the plane, which landed in Vienna, and said France and Portugal would have to explain why they canceled authorization 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.

Morales had earlier met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit of major gas exporters in the Kremlin.

In an interview with Russia Today, Morales said that his South American country would be willing to consider granting asylum to Snowden.

Countries in Latin America, Asia and Europe spurned asylum requests by Edward Snowden on Tuesday, despite a call by Venezuela for the world to protect the former U.S. spy agency contractor wanted by Washington for espionage.

Snowden, who revealed secret U.S. electronic surveillance programs, has applied for political asylum in more than a dozen countries in his search for safety from prosecution in the United States.

The 30-year-old American is in legal limbo in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, unable to fly out because he has no legal travel documents and also has no Russian visa to leave the airport.

A view of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow. Leaker Edward Snowden has been caught in legal limbo in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, file)
A view of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow. Leaker Edward Snowden has been caught in legal limbo in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, file)

Five countries have rejected granting him asylum, seven said they would consider a request if made on their soil, and eight said they had either not made a decision or not received a request.

While country after country denied his asylum requests on technical grounds, Venezuela, part of an alliance of leftist governments in Latin America, said it was time to stop berating a man who has “done something very important for humanity”.

“He deserves the world’s protection,” President Nicolas Maduro told Reuters during a visit to Moscow for a meeting of gas-exporting countries.

“He has a right to protection because the United States in its actions is persecuting him … Why are they persecuting him? What has he done? Did he launch a missile and kill someone? Did he rig a bomb and kill someone? No. He is preventing war.”

Maduro said he would consider an asylum application. He later had talks with Putin but neither leader said whether they had discussed Snowden. However, Russian news agencies Interfax and RIA reported on Tuesday night that the Venezuelan president was leaving Moscow for Belarus without Snowden.

The American’s request for safety in Ecuador, which has sheltered the founder of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks Julian Assange in its London embassy, no longer looks promising.

Bolivia has said it would consider an asylum request but Vice President Alvaro Garcia said Tuesday that none had been received. Nicaragua too said it had not received one.

U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear to a number of countries that granting him asylum would carry costs.

‘Mistake’

Snowden has prepared asylum requests in countries including India, China, Brazil, Ireland, Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela, WikiLeaks has said.

But several countries, including Snowden’s favored Ecuador, said on Tuesday they could not consider an asylum request from Snowden unless he was on their territory.

Finland, Spain, Ireland and Austria said he had to be in their countries to make a request, while India said “we see no reason” to accept his petition. France said it had not received a request and China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said she had no information on Snowden’s asylum request.

Officials in Russia, which has made clear it wants Snowden to leave, say an embassy car would be considered foreign territory if a country picked him up.

Snowden’s options have narrowed sharply.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has said giving Snowden a temporary travel pass to fly to Moscow was “a mistake on our part.”

Moscow is unwilling to send Snowden to the United States, a move that could make it look weak, and it has no extradition treaty with Washington. But it also does not want to damage ties with the United States over a man for whom Putin, a former KGB spy, has little sympathy.

At a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Brunei, Secretary of State John Kerry said he had raised Snowden “from our point of view” despite the affair not being in their domain.

“Russia has never extradited anyone, is not extraditing anyone and will not extradite anyone,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters.

Peskov said Snowden showed no sign of stopping to release secret U.S. documents.

In an undated letter to Ecuador’s Correa seen by Reuters, Snowden said he was “dedicated to the fight for justice in this unequal world”. “I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest,” Snowden said in the letter.