Bolivia’s president yesterday left Europe for home amid escalating diplomatic drama after his flight was rerouted and delayed overnight in Austria, allegedly because of suspicions he was trying to spirit NSA leaker Edward Snowden to Latin America.
Bolivia accused the US of ordering European countries to block President Evo Morales’s flight from their airspace, and accused European governments of “aggression” by thwarting the flight.
However, it’s still unclear whether European countries did block the plane and, if so, why. French, Spanish, and Portuguese officials all said the plane was allowed to cross their territory.
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.
Bolivia’s president sparked speculation during a visit to Russia after he said his country would be willing to consider granting asylum to Snowden.
The plane carrying Morales home from a summit in Moscow was rerouted to Vienna on Tuesday night. The plane took off again shortly before noon yesterday after sitting overnight at the airport.
Austrian officials said Morales’s plane was searched by Austrian border police after Morales gave his permission. Bolivian and Austrian officials both say Snowden was not on board.
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 Snowden.
Morales’s aircraft asked controllers at Vienna airport to land because there was “no clear indication” the plane had enough fuel to continue on its journey, an official in Vienna said. Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN insisted several European countries had refused permission for the plane to fly in their airspace.
Bolivia’s UN ambassador Sacha Llorenti said it was an “act of aggression” and that the four countries violated international law. He said “the orders came from the US” but other nations violated the immunity of the president, putting his life at risk.
There was no immediate US response to Llorenti’s accusation.
Bolivian officials said that France, Portugal, and Italy blocked the plane from flying over their territories over unfounded rumours Snowden was on board.
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a spokeswoman for the French government, said “France ended up authorising the flight over its airspace by Mr Morales’s plane”.
She said the plane “was authorised to fly over French territory” but would not explain whether there had been an initial refusal.
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