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Bolivia fury as leader's jet diverted in Snowden row

Bolivian President Evo Morales holds a press conference at Vienna International Airport on July 3, 2013
Bolivian President Evo Morales holds a press conference at Vienna International Airport on July 3, 2013. Bolivia's President Evo Morales was heading home Wednesday after his plane was searched in Vienna on suspicion of harboring fugitive US intelligence l

Bolivia's President Evo Morales was heading home Wednesday after his plane was searched in Vienna on suspicion of harboring fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, prompting outrage from his government and other Latin American leaders.

As he prepared to depart Vienna, Morales lashed out at European countries for denying his jet entry into their airspace overnight, dragging his country into the escalating US spying scandal.

Search for Snowden grounds presidential plane
Graphic showing how Bolivian president Evo Morales was forced to land in Austria on suspicion that his plane was carrying fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

The ordeal "was like a near 13-hour kidnapping," he said, adding "I am not a delinquent."

La Paz meanwhile announced it had lodged a complaint with the United Nations and planned another to the UN Human Rights Commission against the countries that closed their airspace to Morales's plane.

Bolivian officials accused France, Portugal, Italy and Spain of denying entry to the jet late Tuesday over "unfounded rumors" Snowden was traveling on board.

The resulting forced landing in Vienna came just hours after Morales said his country would consider giving political asylum to Snowden if he submitted a request.

Austria's interior ministry said however that a "voluntary inspection" of the plane by Vienna airport police showed Snowden was not on board.

The jet was carrying just five crew and six passengers, it added.

Edward Snowden pictured during an interview with The Guardian in Hong Kong on June 6, 2013
Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, speaks during an interview with The Guardian newspaper in Hong Kong, June 6, 2013.

"It landed around 9:40 pm (1940 GMT) from Moscow, passports were checked and contrary to rumors that have circulated, Edward Snowden was not on board," ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck told AFP.

France has admitted it granted Morales's plane access to its airspace but then withdrew it at the last minute. Portugal said access was never in doubt but a previously granted request to land had been annulled for technical reasons.

Morales's plane eventually left Vienna Wednesday around 0945 GMT after Spain opened its airspace. The journey to Bolivia was expected to take around 15 hours, with refueling stops in the Spanish Canary Islands and northeastern Brazil.

Bolivian President Evo Morales boards his plane before leaving the Vienna International Airport on July 3, 2013
Bolivian President Evo Morales waves as he boards his plane before leaving the Vienna International Airport on July 3, 2013.

Snowden has been stranded in an airport transit zone in the Russian capital since June 23. He is seeking to avoid US espionage charges for revealing a vast surveillance program to collect phone and Internet data.

The 30-year-old has reportedly applied for asylum in 21 countries, including Austria and Bolivia.

Not only Bolivia but its regional allies Venezuela, Ecuador, Uruguay, Cuba and Nicaragua reacted angrily to the jet incident.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said, "this is an attack against President Morales's life."

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa added on Twitter: "We express our solidarity with Evo and the brave Bolivian people. Our America cannot tolerate so much abuse."

And Uruguay's foreign ministry, in a statement, condemned the "arbitrary and inexplicable" airspace bans.

Bolivia's UN envoy Sacha Llorenti told reporters in Geneva the diversion was an "act of aggression" against Bolivia and tantamount to "kidnapping" Morales, while Argentine President Cristina Kirchner tweeted that the incident was "very humiliating."

Morales, himself, said France, Italy and Portugal would have to explain themselves.

Bolivia will study the possible consequences for these countries' actions, he added.

In La Paz, the presidential palace said protest rallies were already planned outside the embassies of the United States, France, Portugal and Italy.

A number of pro-government groups had also planned protests in several cities.

Snowden has remained quiet and out of sight of reporters since arriving at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport from Hong Kong.

Late Monday, he accused Washington of pressuring foreign leaders to refuse him refuge.

Snowden's latest major leak about US spying on EU countries has angered many European governments and threatened to derail preparations for delicate talks on a huge free trade deal between Washington and Brussels.

On Wednesday, Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said Europe's trust in the United States had been "shattered" by the allegations.

France meanwhile called for a temporary suspension of the trade talks, although Germany said they should go ahead as planned.

"This is not about stopping negotiations on the free trade agreement, but it does seem wise to temporarily suspend them, probably for a period of 15 days, to avoid controversy and to give time to obtain the requested information," Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said after a cabinet session.

EU ambassadors are due to discuss the US spy allegations in Brussels on Thursday.

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