The plane of Bolivia’s President Evo Morales plane on Moscow airport had to be diverted to Austria amid suspicion that US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was on board, the Bolivian foreign minister has said.
Officials in both Austria and Bolivia said Edward Snowden was not on the plane.
France and Portugal reportedly refused to allow the Moscow-Bolivia flight to cross their airspace.
Edward Snowden is reportedly seeking asylum in Bolivia and 20 other countries to avoid extradition to the US.
Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told reporters on Tuesday that France and Portugal had closed their airspace over the “huge lie” that Edward Snowden, 30, was on board.
“We don’t know who invented this lie, but we want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales,” he said.
Austrian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Schallenberg said Edward Snowden was not on board the Bolivian leader’s aircraft.
The Bolivian defense minister, also on the flight, pilloried the US after the unscheduled landing.
“This is a hostile act by the United States state department which has used various European governments,” Ruben Saavedra said.
The plane of Bolivia’s President Evo Morales plane had to be diverted to Austria amid suspicion that Edward Snowden was on board
The Falcon aircraft was reportedly allowed to refuel in Spain before the jet went on to Vienna. President Evo Morales was said to be at the airport in Vienna discussing his return route to Bolivia early on Wednesday.
French officials said they could not confirm whether they had denied permission for President Evo Morales’ plane to fly over their territory. Portuguese officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Bolivian president had been on a visit to Moscow, where Edward Snowden, a former CIA contractor, has reportedly been holed up in an airport transit area since arriving from Hong Kong on June 23.
President Evo Morales told Russian television that Bolivia had not yet received an application from Edward Snowden, however, his request, if sent, would be considered.
“Bolivia is ready to accept people who disclose espionage if one can call it this way,” he said.
President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had been in Moscow for a meeting of gas-exporting countries.
Nicolas Maduro said he had not formally received an asylum request, but expressed support for Edward Snowden, saying he “deserves the world’s protection” from the United States.
“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,” he told Reuters news agency.
Edward Snowden withdrew his application to Russia after President Vladimir Putin said he could stay only on condition that he stopped damaging Russia’s “American partners” with his leaks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
He is wanted by the US on charges of leaking secrets he gathered while working as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s electronic spying agency.
On Tuesday, National Intelligence Director James Clapper apologized for telling Congress in March that the NSA did not have a policy of gathering data on millions of Americans.
He said in a letter to Dianne Feinstein, head of the Senate intelligence committee, that his answer had been “clearly erroneous”.
The leaking of thousands of classified intelligence documents prompted revelations that the US has been systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data.
WikiLeaks, which says it is advising Edward Snowden, said most of his asylum requests had been handed to the Russian consulate at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport late on Sunday for delivery to the relevant embassies in the capital.
Edward Snowden asylum requests:
- Rejected: Austria, Brazil, Finland, India, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland
- Withdrawn: Russia
- Pending: Bolivia, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Nicaragua
- Unconfirmed: France, Venezuela
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is trying to arrange a deal that would see US surveillance programme leaker Edward Snowden granted asylum in Iceland.
Julian Assange said he had been in touch with lawyers for Edward Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong before the scandal broke.
Iceland’s PM said “informal discussions” had been held with an intermediary of ex-CIA contractor Edward Snowden.
But Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson said Edward Snowden would need to be in Iceland to apply for asylum.
Edward Snowden, 29, who most recently worked as a contract computer technician for the National Security Agency (NSA), the US electronic spying agency, has vowed to fight any extradition attempts by the US.
The US has yet to file a formal request for his extradition from the Chinese territory.
The leaks, published in a series of articles this month in The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers, revealed that US agencies had systematically gathered vast amounts of phone and web data.
“We are in touch with Mr. Snowden’s legal team and have been, are involved, in the process of brokering his asylum in Iceland,” said Julian Assange in a conference call from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he himself is fighting extradition to Sweden.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is trying to broker a deal that would see Edward Snowden granted asylum in Iceland
On Monday, Edward Snowden said US officials had destroyed any possibility of a fair trial by labeling him a traitor.
“The US government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason,” he wrote in a live online chat.
Former Vice-President Dick Cheney and two influential members of the US Congress have accused Edward Snowden of betraying his country.
Edward Snowden’s father has also urged his son not to commit “treason”, using a US TV interview this week to urge him to come home and “face justice”.
NSA Director General Keith Alexander told Congress on Wednesday that surveillance programmes leaked by Edward Snowden had helped thwart 50 attacks since 2001.
Plans to attack the New York Stock Exchange were among 10 plots targeting the US that had been stopped, Keith Alexander told the intelligence committee of the House of Representatives, adding that the snooping operations were critical.
Julian Assange walked into the Ecuadorean embassy in London on 19 June 2012 when his appeal against extradition to Sweden for questioning on accusations of sex crimes was turned down.
He has always denied the accusations, and said on Wednesday he would stay in the embassy even if they were dropped, as he still feared being sent to the US for releasing secret documents.
Wikileaks made headlines around the world in 2010 after it released more than 250,000 leaked US diplomatic cables.
Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who leaked documents on US surveillance programmes, has defended himself in an online chat, the Guardian reports.
Edward Snowden, 29, said US officials had destroyed any possibility of a fair trial by labelling him a traitor.
The former CIA contractor also denied suggestions he was a Chinese agent and repeated his claim that intelligence analysts could wiretap any phone call or email.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has denied such allegations.
James Clapper has said the kind of data that can be accessed, and who can access it, is severely limited.
But in the online chat, Edward Snowden said such restrictions were easily circumvented.
Edward Snowden took to live web chat to defend leaking NSA secrets
He acknowledged that the US internet surveillance programme did have a filter that was meant to exclude American citizens.
But he added: “The filter is constantly out of date, is set at what is euphemistically referred to as the <<widest allowable aperture>>, and can be stripped out at any time.”
Edward Snowden said he had decided to speak out after observing “a continuing litany of lies” from senior officials to Congress.
“The US government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason,” Edward Snowden wrote.
Two influential members of the US Congress last week accused him of betraying his country.
Of claims that he was working for Chinese intelligence, Edward Snowden said: “This is a predictable smear that I anticipated before going public.”
Edward Snowden added that he had no intention of going back to the US or turning himself in.
“The US government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me,” he said.