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Bolivia Furious After Presidential Plane Rerouted Over Snowden Suspicions


Bolivia Furious After Presidential Plane Rerouted
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Bolivia has criticized European countries after the airplane carrying President Evo Morales home from Moscow was denied entry to French and Portuguese airspace amid suspicions that fugitive U.S. whistle-blower Edward Snowden was on board.

Bolivian officials said Morales's plane was abruptly denied entry into the airspace of France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy. The plane was rerouted to Austria after refueling in Spain.

Morales voiced his outrage at the incident during a joint news briefing with Austrian President Heinz Fischer at Vienna International Airport.

"There has not been any explanation as to why I was not allowed to fly over French, Portuguese, Italian territories, and later over Spain although we have permission to land in the Canary Islands," Morales said.

"I want to tell you that overnight the Spanish ambassador to Austria came and told me he would get me a coffee onto the plane so he could see the plane."

The plane then left Vienna after Spanish authorities opened their airspace to allow him to fly home.

The Bolivian plane was bringing Morales home from an energy conference in Moscow, where Snowden is believed to be hiding in the transit area of a Moscow airport.

Austrian officials said they had searched the aircraft and not found Snowden, who is reportedly seeking asylum in Bolivia and several other countries to avoid extradition to the United States.

Bolivian Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra, who was on board the flight, denied Snowden was on the plane, saying that "no Bolivian authority has been in contact with Snowden."

Fischer said he had personally ensured that the Bolivian leader was treated "very well and correctly."

But Morales said the search was illegal and a slap in the face to his country.

"You may know that under the international law an official plane -- the president -- has immunity and this is an unbreakable right that exists anywhere in the world and I couldn't understand [what was happening]," the Bolivian leader said.

"I rejected the offer [of coffee], of course, out of dignity. I have the obligation to defend the dignity and sovereignty of my position because it's not an offense to a president, it's an offense to the whole nation and to the whole region of Latin America."

Bolivian officials, too, have reacted angrily to the incident.

Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said in La Paz that "Evo Morales has been made a hostage of imperialism," adding that it was "certain that the United States has ordered that detention."

While in Russia, Morales had suggested that his government would be willing to consider granting asylum to the American leaker of classified secrets about U.S. electronic eavesdropping and the related program, dubbed PRISM.

Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said France and Portugal would have to explain why they canceled authorization for the plane, claiming that the decision had put the president's life at risk.

Bolivia's UN ambassador charged Austria with "kidnapping" Morales at the bidding of the United States and said he would file a complaint to UN chief Ban Ki-moon over the European countries' moves to block the plane.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP