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Bolivian president hits US, Europe over plane search flap

Bolivia NSA Surveilla_Cham.jpg

July 3, 2013: Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks upon his arrival home after an unplanned 14-hour layover in Vienna, at the airport in El Alto, Bolivia. The European rerouting of the Bolivian presidential plane over suspicions that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden was aboard ignited outrage Wednesday among Latin American leaders who called it a stunning violation of national sovereignty and disrespect for the region. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Bolivian President Evo Morales had harsh words for the United States and Europe late Wednesday night following the rerouting of his plane over suspicions that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden was on board. 

Morales' presidential plane arrived in Bolivia's capital, La Paz, late Wednesday night following an unplanned 14-hour layover in Vienna. His government said France, Spain and Portugal all refused to let it through their airspace, forcing it to land in the Austrian capital. Morales had been flying home from a summit in Russia.

Bolivian government officials have repeatedly said they believe that Washington was behind the incident. Bolivia is one of 21 countries to which Snowden has applied for asylum, along with fellow South American countries Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela. The Bolivian government has not given any official response to Snowden's request. 

"It is an open provocation to the continent, not only to the president; they use the agent of North American imperialism to scare us and intimidate us," Morales said to about 100 supporters gathered at the La Paz airport to greet him.

Morales, a leftist, has long been a fierce critic of U.S. policy toward Latin America and had suggested while in Russia that he was be willing to consider giving Snowden asylum in Bolivia.

"I regret this, but I want to say that some European countries should free themselves from North American imperialism," he said.

Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said that the presidents of Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Suriname and possibly Uruguay will attend meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, on Thursday to discuss the matter. Bolivia said earlier it also would summon the French and Italian ambassadors and the Portuguese consul to demand explanations.

French President Francois Hollande said Wednesday that he granted permission for the plane to cross French airspace as soon as he realized it belonged to the Bolivian president. A spokesman for the French foreign ministry issued a statement saying that that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had called his Bolivian counterpart to apologize for "the incident caused by the late confirmation of permission ... to fly over [French] territory." 

Spanish and Portuguese officials have also said the plane was allowed to cross their territory.

The emergency stop in Austria may have been caused by a dispute over where the plane could refuel and whether European authorities could inspect it for signs of Snowden.

The U.S. declined to comment on whether it was involved in any decision to close European airspace, saying only that "US officials have been in touch with a broad range of countries over the course of the last 10 days," about the Snowden case.

"The message has been communicated both publicly and privately," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday. "He should be returned to the United States."

The Associated Press contributed to this report