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Snowden fate in balance as Cuba backs asylum bid

Protesters burn an effigy of US President Barack Obama outside the US embassy in La Paz on July 8, 2013
Protesters burn an effigy of US President Barack Obama as well as a coffin with flags of Spain, Portugal, France and Italy,outside the US embassy in La Paz on July 8, 2013. The protest came after Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane, flying home from a

Fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has won support from Cuba for his bid to seek asylum in Latin America, as he embarked on his third week in limbo at a Moscow airport.

Cuba, a key transit point from Russia on the way to Latin America, on Monday supported the leaders of Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua, who have offered the 30-year-old a possible lifeline as he remains marooned without documents in the transit area of a Moscow airport.

"We support the sovereign rights of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and all the regional states to grant asylum to those who are being persecuted for their ideals or their fight for democratic rights, in accordance with our traditions," Cuban leader Raul Castro said.

Edward Snowden
Map of the world showing the astatus of Edward Snowden's asylum requests.

Speaking to Cuba's national assembly, Castro did not say whether his country, which has been showing signs of mending ties with Washington, would itself offer refuge to Snowden.

"If Raul Castro's solidarity on #Snowden is serious, Cuba will publicly offer Snowden asylum," anti-secrecy organisation WikiLeaks said on Twitter.

Multiple obstacles continue to cloud the former National Security Agency contractor's asylum hopes however and it remains unclear how he would be able to leave Russia, even if granted asylum by the three Latin American countries.

The Nicaraguan embassy in Moscow on Monday confirmed it had received Snowden's asylum application, but stressed it had not yet made any contact with the American.

"We received a letter from Snowden," the Nicaraguan ambassador in Moscow, Luis Alberto Molina, told the Russian state news agency ITAR-TASS. "We forwarded it to Nicaragua so that the president can consider it."

The embassies of Bolivia and Venezuela said they were unaware of any developments that would help Snowden leave Sheremetyevo Airport.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called on Snowden to decide if he wants to fly to Caracas.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (R) shakes hands with his Panama counterpart Ricardo Martinelli on July 8, 2013
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (R) shakes hands with his Panama counterpart Ricardo Martinelli, in Caracas, on July 8, 2013.

"We have received the asylum request letter," Maduro told reporters from the presidential palace in Caracas. "He will have to decide when he flies, if he finally wants to fly here."

He called the offers from the three Latin American nations "collective humanitarian political asylum."

Meanwhile the Kremlin reiterated its wish to keep the Snowden affair at arm's length, declining to say how he could leave without a valid passport.

"That's not our business," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP. "We are not saying anything."

Snowden, who is seeking to evade US justice after leaking explosive details about a vast US electronic surveillance programme, caught the Kremlin off guard when he arrived in Russia from Hong Kong on June 23.

After the United States revoked his passport, Snowden, who has applied for asylum in a total of 27 countries, has been unable to leave the Sheremetyevo airport transit zone.

A demonstrator holds up a picture of Edward Snowden during a demonstration in Paris on July 7, 2013
A demonstrator holds up a picture of fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden during a demonstration in Paris on July 7, 2013.

The only flight for which Snowden was known to have been checked onto -- a 12-hour Aeroflot flight to Havana -- left on June 24 without the fugitive on board, but with several dozen journalists in tow.

The Kremlin has been forced to perform a tough balancing act, saying it would not expel the US national but also stressing it did not want to damage ties with Washington ahead of Putin's summit with US leader Barack Obama in early September.

On Monday, the Kommersant daily, citing a source close to the US State Department, said Obama was unlikely to come to Moscow if Snowden was still stuck in the airport.

Peskov dismissed the report as "speculation", and in Washington, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan also said the report was false.

"President Obama intends to travel to Russia in September," Meehan said.

Even if Snowden receives a new passport or travel document and manages to board a flight to Latin America, there are no guarantees that his plane would not be grounded once it reaches western European airspace, analysts say.

Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane, flying home from a trip to Moscow last week, was forced to make an unscheduled stopover in Vienna after several European nations temporarily closed their airspace over groundless rumours that Snowden was aboard the jet.

Putin said Snowden could remain in Russia as long as he stopped his leaks, a condition the Kremlin later said the American was not willing to honour.

Ireland's High Court meanwhile refused a bid by the United States to obtain an arrest warrant for Snowden in case he lands on Irish soil.

Judge Colm Mac Eochaidh said he was "compelled" to reject the request, made by the US embassy in Dublin on Friday, because it did not state where Snowden's alleged offences were committed.

"The question of where the offence took place is not a minor detail but is a matter which could have very serious consequences in any further stage that might be reached in an extradition process," the judge wrote.