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Is Venezuela Snowden's last resort? Leaker running out of options as Russia asylum bid fizzles

 

NSA leaker Edward Snowden was frantically trying to find a country that would grant him asylum Tuesday, sending out a slew of requests to nearly 20 additional nations as a short-lived bid to take refuge in Russia appeared to fizzle. 

Now, his best hope for leaving the transit zone at the Moscow airport, where he is thought to have spent the past week, may be the president of Venezuela -- who was in Moscow on Tuesday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Venezuela was among the 19 countries that Snowden requested asylum with late Sunday, according to WikiLeaks. The anti-secrecy group, which is aiding Snowden, revealed the scope of Snowden's asylum requests Monday night. 

The group confirmed earlier reports that Snowden sought to take refuge in Russia. But on Tuesday, Russian news agencies quoted President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that Snowden withdrew his request after learning about the terms Moscow set out. Putin said on Monday that Russia is ready to shelter Snowden only if he stops leaking U.S. secrets -- a condition Snowden apparently was not prepared to meet. 

Other nations, though, were already indicating they could not consider asylum if Snowden was not on their soil. 

Attention turned Tuesday to Venezuela's new president, Nicolas Maduro, who dodged the question of whether he would take Snowden away with him. 

But Maduro, speaking to Russian reporters, also defended the former National Security Agency contractor who released sensitive documents on U.S. intelligence-gathering operations. 

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

Putin on Monday was mum about the possibility of another world leader whisking Snowden away. 

But so far, Snowden is running into obstacle after obstacle as he tries to negotiate a way out of the transit zone in the Moscow airport, without a valid U.S. passport or any country that so far has agreed to take him. 

Several of the countries he appealed to Sunday said he cannot apply from abroad. Officials in Germany, Norway, Austria, Poland, Finland, Switzerland and Spain all said he must make his request on their soil. 

WikiLeaks said requests have also been made to Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Iceland, India, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Spain and Venezuela. 

India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin says Delhi has carefully examined the asylum request and decided to turn it down. 

Akbaruddin said Tuesday that the government has "concluded that we see no reason to accede to that request." 

Amid the roadblocks, Snowden broke his weeklong silence on Monday, defending his "right to seek asylum" while separately claiming he remains "free and able" to publish sensitive information on U.S. surveillance. 

In a statement issued on the WikiLeaks website, Snowden attacked the Obama administration, saying, "On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic 'wheeling and dealing' over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions. 

"This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile." 

He continued, "Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum." 

Separately, in a letter in Spanish sent by Snowden to Ecuador President Rafael Correa and obtained and translated by Britain's Press Association, he declared, "I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest. No matter how many more days my life contains, I remain dedicated to the fight for justice in this unequal world." 

It was the first known statement from Snowden since he flew out of Hong Kong into Moscow more than a week ago. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.