Bolivia fury as leader’s jet diverted in Snowden row

July 3, 2013 2:02 pm
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Bolivian President Evo Morales holds a press conference at Vienna International Airport on July 3, 2013. Morales's jet left Vienna on Wednesday after it was diverted overnight on suspicion of harbouring fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden./AFP
Bolivian President Evo Morales holds a press conference at Vienna International Airport on July 3, 2013. Morales’s jet left Vienna on Wednesday after it was diverted overnight on suspicion of harbouring fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden./AFP
VIENNA, Jul 3 – Bolivian President Evo Morales flew out of Austria on Wednesday after police inspected his jet and found that fugitive US leaker Edward Snowden was not on board in an incident that has sparked a diplomatic row.

Morales lashed out at European countries for denying his jet entry into their airspace overnight, dragging his country into the escalating US spying scandal.

“I am not a delinquent,” Morales told reporters at Vienna airport where his plane was held up for more than 12 hours.

Bolivia’s UN envoy Sacha Llorenti said the country would file a complaint to UN chief Ban Ki-moon over the diversion which he said “violated international law”.

The diversion was an “act of aggression” against Bolivia and tantamount to “kidnapping” Morales, he told reporters in Geneva.

The Austrian interior ministry said airport police carried out a “voluntary inspection” of the jet, confirming Snowden was not on board.

“I am not a delinquent,” Morales told reporters at Vienna airport where his plane was held up for more than 12 hours.

The jet was carrying just five crew and six passengers, it said.

The plane eventually left Vienna around 0945 GMT after Spain opened its airspace. The jet was on its way to the Spanish Canary Island of Las Palmas for servicing before continuing on to Bolivia.

The diversion of the flight, which originally took off from Moscow, occurred late Tuesday just hours after Morales said his country would consider giving political asylum to 30-year-old Snowden if he submitted one.

Bolivian officials accused France, Portugal, Italy and Spain of initially denying airspace to Morales’s plane, forcing it to reroute over the groundless rumours that Snowden was travelling with Morales.

Snowden has been stranded in an airport transit zone in the Russian capital since June 23. He is seeking to avoid US espionage charges for revealing a vast surveillance program to collect phone and Internet data.

He has applied for asylum in 21 countries, including Austria and Bolivia.

Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said the unexpected landing had put Morales’s life in danger.

Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck told AFP that Morales’s plane “landed around 9:40pm (1940 GMT) from Moscow, passports were checked and contrary to rumours that have circulated, Edward Snowden was not on board.”

Bolivia’s regional allies Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Nicaragua reacted angrily to the jet incident.

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