Bolivia's foreign minister has said President Evo Morales' plane was denied clearance over French and Portuguese airspace, forcing it to land in Vienna. He said this followed a "lie" that Edward Snowden was on board.
Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Morales' plane made an unscheduled stop in Vienna because France and Portugal revoked clearance for the flight from Moscow. According to the minister in the capital La Paz, the countries suspected that former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden was on the flight to Bolivia.
"They say it was due to technical issues, but after getting explanations from some authorities we found that there appeared to be some unfounded suspicions that Mr. Snowden was on the plane," Choquehuanca said. "We don't know who invented this lie."
A spokesman for the interior ministry in Vienna also said Wednesday morning that rumors Snowden had entered Austria were untrue.
"Austria did not close its airspace and the plane could of course land although many other countries apparently feared that Snowden was on board too," Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told the radio station of public broadcaster ORF.
Whistle-blower Snowden, who recently turned 30, has spent more than a week in diplomatic limbo in a Moscow airport. Morales visited Moscow on Tuesday for a summit of major gas exporters at the Kremlin. Bolivia is one of the countries where Snowden has applied for political asylum. Eight of these countries, including Germany, rejected this request on Tuesday.
Bolivia suspects State Department
French news agency AFP said the foreign ministry in Paris could not immediately comment, while Choquehuanca said Bolivia considered the diversion a danger to Morales' safety.
"We want to express our displeasure because this has put the president's life at risk," the foreign minister said.
Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra suggested that the US State Department may have been behind the Portuguese and French decision.
"We have the suspicion that [Portugal and France] were used by a foreign power, in this case the United States, as a way of intimidating the Bolivian state and President Evo Morales" Saavedra said.
In an interview with the Russia Today television channel, Morales said his country would consider granting Snowden asylum.
Germany rejects bid
Snowden is wanted by US authorities after revealing information on a program known as PRISM that allegedly allowed the NSA and other authorities to access information on users of some of the world's largest online platforms.
Germany was one of the countries to reject the former NSA contractor's asylum request, in a joint statement from the foreign and interior ministries issued on Tuesday.
"The conditions for an acceptance are not met," the ministries said. Most German asylum requests, though not all, must be submitted from German soil. When that's not the case, the ministries said, the German government had to consider asylum necessary either due to humanitarian concerns or German political interest.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich had said before the announcement that he was skeptical of Snowden's claim in his application that he may face life imprisonment or death in the US. Friedrich said that the US was a country governed by rule of law where Snowden was likely to receive a fair trial.
Some opposition parties had argued in favor of granting the 30-year-old asylum.
Poland, India, Norway, the Netherlands and Brazil also rejected Snowden's applications on Tuesday, while Austria, Finland, Iceland and Spain said he would have to apply again from their soil for them to consider allowing him to stay.
msh/ch (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
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