Bolivia's president left Europe for home on Wednesday amid diplomatic drama over suggestions he was trying to sneak NSA leaker Edward Snowden aboard his private plane, a day after his flight was rerouted and delayed in Austria in an "act of aggression" by U.S. allies that put his life at risk, according to the country's ambassador.
Bolivia demanded explanation from various European countries it accused of thwarting President Evo Morales' flight.
French officials denied Wednesday that France refused to let the plane cross over its airspace amid suspicions that Snowden was aboard. Spain, too, said the plane was free to cross its territory.
"We want to declare very firmly that it was an American story that Edward Snowden was on this flight. This is a plot by the U.S. government to destroy president Morales' image. We say this simply is a lie. And we will confirm this."
- Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra at the VIP terminal of Vienna's airport
The plane carrying Morales home from Moscow was rerouted to Austria Tuesday night, in a new twist to the international uproar over Snowden and the widespread U.S. surveillance that he revealed. It took off again from Vienna shortly before noon Wednesday.
Bolivian and Austrian officials both say Snowden was not on Morales' plane, which left Moscow on Tuesday following a summit. Morales had suggested that his government would be willing to consider granting asylum to the American.
Snowden is believed to be in a Moscow airport transit area, seeking asylum from one of more than a dozen countries.
Bolivia's ambassador to the United Nations, speaking in Geneva Wednesday, continued to insist that several European countries had refused permission for the plane to fly in their airspace.
Sacha Llorenti said it was an "act of aggression" and that France, Portugal, Spain and Italy violated international law.
Llorenti said "the orders came from the United States" but other nations violated the immunity of the president and his plane, putting his life at risk.
Bolivian officials said that France, Portugal and Italy blocked the plane from flying over their territories based on unfounded rumors that Snowden was on board. Bolivia said Spain agreed to allow the plane to refuel in the Canary Islands — but only if Bolivian authorities agreed to allow it to be inspected.
While Bolivia's foreign minister had earlier said officials did not know who was behind the "lie" that Snowden was on Morales' plane, the country's defense minister later expressed no doubt.
"We want to declare very firmly that it was an American story that Edward Snowden was on this flight," said Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra at the VIP terminal of Vienna's airport. "This is a plot by the U.S. government to destroy president Morales' image. We say this simply is a lie. And we will confirm this."
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said Wednesday that Morales' plane had authorization to fly over France. French officials would not comment on why Bolivian officials said otherwise.
Spain's foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the country on Tuesday authorized Morales' plane to fly within its airspace and to make the Canary Islands refueling stop and gave the authorization again on Wednesday morning after Bolivian authorities repeated the request.
A foreign ministry official declined comment when asked if Spain demanded the right to inspect the plane. The Spanish spoke on condition of anonymity because of ministry rules.
Officials in Portugal did not return repeated telephone messages seeking comment and Italian officials were not available to speak on the subject Wednesday morning.
In Vienna, an official said that Morales' aircraft asked controllers at Vienna airport to land because there was "no clear indication" that the plane had enough fuel to continue on its journey.
The official, who demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to go public with the information, said Austrian authorities could not comment on whether the plane was denied overflights by other countries.
"We don't know who invented this lie" that Snowden was traveling with Morales, Bolivian Foreign Minister David 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.
In a midnight press conference in La Paz, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia described Morales as being "kidnapped by imperialism" in Europe.
Leaks by Snowden, a former NSA systems analyst, have revealed the NSA's sweeping data collection of U.S. phone records and some Internet traffic, though U.S. intelligence officials have said the programs target foreigners and terrorist suspects mostly overseas.
French President Francois Hollande has firmly criticized reported surveillance of U.S. allies by the National Security Agency. Several French politicians on the far left and right have said France should offer Snowden asylum, but the French government has said it hasn't received any asylum request from him and has not offered public support for Snowden.
Snowden has applied for asylum in Venezuela, Bolivia and 18 other countries, according to WikiLeaks, a secret spilling website that has been advising him. Many European countries on the list — including Austria, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland — said he would have to make his request on their soil.
One of Snowden's best chances of finding refuge outside the United States may hinge on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who was also in Russia on Tuesday.
Maduro told Russian reporters that his country has not received an application for asylum from Snowden and dodged the question of whether he would take him with him when he left.
But Maduro also defended the former National Security Agency systems analyst.
"Who must protect Snowden? This is the question. This young man of 29 was brave enough to say that we need to protect the world from the American imperial elite, so who should protect him?" Maduro said in response to a question from journalists covering a ceremony to rename a Moscow street after Chavez. "All of mankind, people all over the world must protect him."
Maduro was scheduled to spend Wednesday in neighboring Belarus before returning to Venezuela.
In Venezuela, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said that changing the flight's route without checking on how much fuel it had endangered Morales' life.
"All the countries that have denied permission for the flight of our brother president, Evo Morales, must be held responsible for his life and his dignity as president."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.
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