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Bolivian government angry over plane rerouting due to Snowden suspicions

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2013

While still apparently holed up in a Moscow airport, National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden precipitated another international incident, this time over the Bolivian president's plane being rerouted to Austria over concerns that Mr. Snowden might be onboard.

Bolivia accused the U.S. of trying to kidnap or endanger leftist President Evo Morales, and other unhappy South American nations expressed anger Wednesday over the diversion of his airplane.

The plane carrying Mr. Morales from Moscow was denied entrance to France and Portugal's airspace Tuesday after he made comments to Russia Today television saying he would consider granting political asylum to Mr. Snowden.

Mr. Morales wound up spending the night in Austria and heading back to the Bolivian capital on Wednesday amid a round of diplomatic finger-pointing. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca was none too pleased with the diversion, calling the Snowden rumor a "huge lie."

"They say it was due to technical issues, but after getting explanations from some authorities we found that there appeared to be some unfounded suspicions that Mr. Snowden was on the plane We don't know who invented this lie," Mr. Choquehuanca said, according to Reuters.

"We want to express our displeasure because this has put the president's life at risk," he said.

Sacha Llorenti Soliz, Bolivia's ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters in Geneva that "we're talking about the president on an official trip after an official summit being kidnapped."

"We have no doubt that it was an order from the White House," he added.

On Wednesday, the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) condemned the diversion of the plane and demanded an explanation for such "unfriendly and unjustifiable acts."

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said Unasur would hold an emergency meeting Thursday in Lima, Peru, to discuss the diversion.

Austrian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Schallenberg told AFP that Mr. Morales' plane had landed in Vienna and that Mr. Snowden was not on board.

"President Morales will leave early Wednesday morning for La Paz," he said.

Mr. Snowden, 30, who faces espionage charges in the U.S., reportedly remains stuck in the transit zone at the Moscow airport as he searches for a country willing to grant him asylum.

He has sent requests for asylum to 20 nations, including Bolivia and Venezuela, according to WikiLeaks. Leaders of both those South American nations have expressed sympathy for Mr. Snowden's plight.

"If there were a request, of course we would be willing to debate and consider the idea," said Mr. Morales on RT Actualidad, a Spanish-language broadcast, adding that in the past, "Bolivia was there to shield the denounced."

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro defended the accused NSA leaker to Russian reporters Tuesday during a summit of major gas exporters in Moscow.

"He did not kill anyone and did not plant a bomb," said Mr. Maduro, according to the Interfax news agency. "What he did was tell a great truth in an effort to prevent wars. He deserves protection under international and humanitarian law."

WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group aiding Mr. Snowden, criticized the European nations for refusing airspace access.

"The reported actions of France, Portugal and Spain this night will live in infamy," said a Tuesday post on the WikiLeaks Twitter account.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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