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LatAm leaders meet, fume over Morales plane flap

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Bolivian President Evo Morales is greeted upon arrival at El Alto Airport late on July 3, 2013 in La Paz. Leftist Latin American leaders gathered in Bolivia on Thursday to back Morales, fuming after some European nations temporarily refused his plane access to their airspace amid suspicions US fugitive Edward Snowden was aboard. (AFP/File)

Leftist Latin American leaders gathered in Bolivia on Thursday to back President Evo Morales, fuming after some European nations temporarily refused his plane access to their airspace amid suspicions US fugitive Edward Snowden was aboard.

Morales arrived home late Wednesday after a long layover in Vienna, saying his plane was diverted there because it was barred from flying over four European nations, sparking outrage among Latin American leaders.

The Bolivian leader's plane odyssey began hours after Morales declared in Moscow that he would be willing to consider an asylum application from Snowden, who is seeking sanctuary in several Latin American nations to evade US espionage charges.

"Apologies from a country that did not let us pass over its territory are not enough," Morales said before talks with fellow leaders in the central city of Cochabamba. "Some governments apologized, saying it was an error, but this was not an error."

Presidents Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Jose Mujica of Uruguay and Desi Bouterse of Suriname arrived for the afternoon talks while Argentina's Cristina Kirchner was expected to arrive later.

"We are going to Bolivia to give a hug in solidarity to our brother Evo Morales, to our dear Bolivia, but also to take decisions and show that we won't accept this sort of humiliation against any country of (Latin) America," Correa said before arriving.

"Imagine if this happened to a European head of state, if this had happened to the president of the United States. It probably would have been a casus belli, a case for war," he said. "They think they can attack, crush, destroy international law."

Maduro said Europe had "attacked the international immunity that protects a head of state."

Correa had called for a larger summit gathering leaders of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), but the presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Peru had yet to confirm their attendance, even though they too condemned the incident.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos voiced support for Morales but warned on Twitter against "converting this into a diplomatic crisis between Latin America and the EU (European Union)."

Bolivian officials accused France, Portugal, Italy and Spain of denying entry to Morales's jet late Tuesday as he flew back home from Russia due to "unfounded rumors" Snowden was on board.

Morales has also lashed out at the United States, urging Europeans to "free themselves from the US empire."

The US consulate's walls in the city of Santa Cruz were sprayed with red graffiti, one reading "Gringos Obama out." Late Wednesday, some 100 protesters burned flags and threw rocks at the French embassy in the Bolivian capital La Paz, smashing windows.

Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, has applied for asylum in several Latin American nations while waiting in legal limbo in a Moscow airport, trying to escape US justice after leaking details of a vast US phone and Internet surveillance program.

Morales likened his own situation to a "13-hour kidnapping."

France since apologized for temporarily refusing entry to Morales's jet, with President Francois Hollande saying there was "conflicting information" about the passengers.

The Bolivian government has lodged a complaint with the United Nations and planned another to the UN Human Rights Commission.

"What was the main objective? Just to scare me? Shut me up? Intimidate me? What was the goal?" Morales said.

Russia joined Latin American leaders in condemning France, Spain and Portugal, while Venezuela's Maduro said his government would review relations with Madrid.

Kirchner, the Argentine leader, invoked Europe's colonialist past to denounce the plane flap.

"When one sees what they did to Evo in Europe, you feel as if five centuries never happened," she said before leaving Argentina. "Like five centuries ago, they wanted to subject us to humiliation."