Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Morales slams plane reroute furore

Bolivia president Evo Morales is greeted upon his arrival home at the airport in El Alto after an unplanned 14-hour stopover in Vienna (AP)

Bolivia's president Evo Morales has called the rerouting of his plane over suspicions that National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden was aboard a provocation to Latin America and urged European countries to "free themselves" from the United States.

His presidential plane arrived home in Bolivia's capital early on Thursday following an unplanned 14-hour stopover in Vienna. His government said France, Spain and Portugal refused to let it through their airspace, forcing it to land in Austria. He had been flying home from a summit in Russia.

Bolivian government officials have repeatedly said they believe that Washington was behind the incident.

"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," Mr Morales told about 100 supporters gathered at La Paz airport to greet him.

Left-winger Mr Morales has long been a fierce critic of US policy towards Latin America and had suggested while in Russia that he was willing to consider giving Mr 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.

Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patino said the presidents of Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Suriname and possibly Uruguay would attend a meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, on Thursday to discuss the matter. Bolivia said earlier it would also summon the French and Italian ambassadors and the Portuguese consul to demand explanations.

However it is still unclear whether European countries did block the plane and, if so, why. French, Spanish and Portuguese officials have all 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 Mr Snowden.

The US 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. "He should be returned to the United States."

Mr Snowden himself remains out of public view, believed to be stuck in a Moscow airport transit area, seeking asylum from one of more than a dozen countries.

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