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Bolivian President's plane refused airspace over Snowden fear

Vienna, Jul 3, 2013 (AP): 11:21 IST
Bolivia's President Evo Morales looks on before attending the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) at the Kremlin in Moscow, July 1, 2013.Bolivia said President Morales' plane was diverted on a flight from Russia and forced to land in Austria over suspicions that Edward Snowden might be on board, as several countries spurned the former U.S. spy agency contractor's asylum requests. France and Portugal abruptly cancelled air permits for Morales' plane, forcing the unscheduled stopover in Vienna.  Reuters
The plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was rerouted to Austria after various European countries refused to let it cross their airspace because of suspicions that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was on board, Bolivian officials said.

Officials in both Austria and Bolivia yesterday said that Snowden was not on the plane, which was taking Morales home from a summit in Russia, where he had suggested that his government would be willing to consider granting asylum to the American.

A furious Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said France and Portugal would have to explain why they canceled authorisation for the plane, claiming that the decision had put the president's life at risk.

"We don't know who invented this lie" that Snowden was traveling with Morales, Choquehuanca said in La Paz. "We want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales."

In a midnight press conference, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia said that not only France and Portugal, but also Italy and Spain were denying the plane permission to fly through their airspace.

He described Morales as being "kidnapped by imperialism" in Europe. "The ambassador for Spain in Austria has just informed us that there is no authorisation to fly over Spanish territory and that at 9 a.m. Wednesday they would be in contact with us again," said Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra, adding that the Spanish government had put as a condition for passage the "revision of the presidential plane."

Earlier, Choquehuanca said that Spain's government allowed Morales' plane to refuel in its territory before flying on to Vienna.

French government officials reached overnight said they could not confirm whether Morales' plane was denied permission to fly over France. Officials at Portugal's Foreign Ministry and National Civil Aviation Authority could not be reached to comment.

Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Schallenberg said that Snowden was not with Morales.

Leaks by Snowden, a former NSA systems analyst, have revealed the NSA's sweeping data collection of US phone records and some Internet traffic, though US intelligence officials have said the programs are aimed at targeting foreigners and terrorist suspects mostly overseas.

He is believed to be in a Moscow airport transit area, seeking asylum from one of more than a dozen countries.

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