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Politics

Latin American leaders support Morales after jet diversion

Some Latin American leaders have met in Bolivia expressing outrage over the diversion of President Evo Morales' jet. The plane was denied flight clearance amid a false rumor that whistle-blower Edward Snowden was aboard.

President Evo Morales said he expected more than an apology after he was re-routed to Vienna and had to stay the night. Bolivia alleged that France, Italy, Portugal and Spain all revoked flight clearance for the president's plane owing to the "false rumor" that former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor turned wanted whistle-blower Edward Snowden was on board.

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

Bolivia had called on all members of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to attend the summit, which was organized at short notice. Presidents Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Jose Mujica of Uruguay and Suriname's Desi Bourtese all arrived for the opening of the talks. Argentina's Cristina Kirchner joined them later.

Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Peru all condemned the diversion of Morales' plane but did not attend the meeting.

"If what happened doesn't justify a meeting of heads of state of our South America, what justifies one?" asked Correa of Ecuador in implicit criticism of the absentees.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was in Lausanne on Thursday for a meeting of the International Olympic Committee.

"I think it is unheard of what they did to Evo Morales," Santos told the DPA news agency, before appealing to regional partners not to overreact. "This cannot become a diplomatic crisis between Latin America and Europe."

Snowden is believed to have spent almost two weeks in a Moscow airport. Morales' plane had taken off from Moscow for La Paz, a few hours after he had said on Russian television that he would consider the asylum request Snowden had filed. The former NSA contractor is wanted on espionage charges in the US for leaking details of a program known as PRISM that allegedly allowed the NSA and other agencies to monitor users of some of the world's largest online platforms.

Morales received a rapturous welcome when he returned after his roughly 13-hour Vienna stopover. Thursday's meeting coincided with small demonstrations outside both the US and French embassies in La Paz. French President Francois Hollande had said that his government "regretted" the incident, citing "conflicting information" about the passengers.

msh/ch (AFP, AP, dpa)