PARIS (AP) — French officials denied Wednesday that France refused to let the Bolivian president’s plane cross over its airspace amid suspicions that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was aboard. Spain, too, said the plane was free to cross its territory.
The plane carrying President Evo Morales home from Moscow was rerouted to Austria Tuesday night, in a new twist to the international diplomatic drama over Snowden and the widespread U.S. surveillance that he revealed.
Bolivian officials said that France, Portugal, Spain and Italy blocked the plane from flying over their territories, and angrily demanded explanation.
Officials in both Austria and Bolivia said that Snowden was not on the plane, which was taking Morales home from a summit in Russia, where he 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.
Two officials with the French Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Morales’ plane had authorization to fly over France. They would not comment on why Bolivian officials said otherwise. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to be publicly named according to ministry policy.
An official with Spain’s foreign ministry said Wednesday that the country on Tuesday authorised Morales’ plane to fly within its airspace and to make a refueling stop. The official said Bolivia asked again this morning for permission and got it. She spoke on condition of anonymity because of department rules.
Officials in Portugal and Italy were not available to speak on the subject Wednesday morning.
Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said France and Portugal refused overflight rights and would have to explain why they canceled authorization for the plane, claiming that the decision had put the president’s life at risk.
“We don’t know who invented this lie” that Snowden was travelling with Morales, 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 in La Paz, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia said that Italy and Spain were also denying the plane permission to fly through their airspace.
He described Morales as being “kidnapped by imperialism” in Europe. Morales will remain at the airport until his plane has been cleared for takeoff.
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 criticised 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.
Ciaran Giles in Madrid and Barry Hatton in Portugal contributed to this report.
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