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19th Oct 2019

EU states ground Bolivian leader's plane in Snowden affair

Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane was forced to land in Vienna early on Wednesday (3 July) amid suspicions it was harbouring fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Morales was en route from an energy meeting in Moscow held on Tuesday, where he had told Russian TV that Bolivia would consider granting Snowden asylum.

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  • Wednesday's path of Morales flight 'FAB 1' (Photo: flightradar24.com)

He said he was keen “to shield the denounced.”

According to media reports, France, Spain, Italy and Portugal later denied his plane the right to fly over their airspace.

Morales, his defence minister Ruben Saavedrd, and their crew are currently waiting in the Austrian airport’s VIP lounge.

Austria’s foreign ministry has since confirmed that Snowden was not on the flight.

All countries - except Spain - then lifted the flight ban.

For his part, Saavedrd told journalists that “the ambassador for Spain in Austria has just informed us that there is no authorisation to fly over Spanish territory and that at 9am Wednesday they would be in contact with us again.”

Saavedrd said he considered the whole fiasco as a hostile act perpetrated by the United States which uses EU governments as proxies.

Meanwhile, Bolivian foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, said France and Portugal initially refused flight entry citing “technical issues."

“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,” he noted.

Bolivia's vice president, Alvaro Garcia, went further.

He said Morales had been “kidnapped by imperialism” in Europe.

In a a sign that the incident could turn into an international diplomatic dispute, Cristina Kirchner, the president of Argentina, said Peruvian president Ollanta Humala is to organise a meeting of the Union of South American Nations to discuss the issue.

“Tomorrow is going to be a long and difficult day. Be calm.” she tweeted.

Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, said Latin American leaders need to take action.

“Decisive hours for Unasur! Either we graduated from the colonies, or we claim our independence, sovereignty and dignity. We are all Bolivia!” he tweeted.

Snowden’s leaks to The Guardian, Der Spiegel and the Washington Post have revealed US spying operations on EU citizens, EU countries' embassies, EU missions in Washington and New York and EU buildings in Brussels.

The disclosures generated public uproar.

Several EU leaders have publicly denounced the spy operation, despite EU countries' actions on the Morales flight.

Six EU states - including Austria, Finland, Ireland, Poland, the Netherlands and Spain - have also declined Snowden's asylum request, saying that under national law he can only apply if he is physically present on their territory.

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