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Snowden Seeks Asylum In Ecuador

Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden
Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden
Ecuador says former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has asked for asylum.

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino made the announcement via Twitter on June 22 while on an official visit to Vietnam.

Snowden, who is wanted by U.S. authorities for leaking details of secret government surveillance programs, flew to Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23.

A Hong Kong government spokesman confirmed that Snowden had left the territory. even though the United States had been seeking his extradition.

The Hong Kong administration issued a statement saying that it had no legal basis to prevent Snowden from leaving.

The statement also said that the U.S. extradition request "did not fully comply with legal requirements."

The "South China Morning Post," which has published exclusive interviews with Snowden, said on June 23 that Moscow is not his final destination.

An official at the Russian Foreign Ministry said his government has no information about Snowden's whereabouts or plans.

A spokesperson for Aeroflot said Snowden has booked a ticket on a flight to Havana, Cuba, that departs in the afternoon on June 24. The same spokesperson said Snowden has a reservation to fly from Havana to Caracas, Venezuela.

A Russian official was quoted on June 23 as saying Snowden does not have a Russian visa and will not be allowed to leave the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetevo Airport.

Hong Kong's decision to let Snowden leave is seen as a blow to relations with Washington.

On June 22, U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon told U.S. television that "Hong Kong has been a historically good partner of the United States in law enforcement matters."

The following day, Chinese state media criticized the United States following allegations from Snowden that the U.S. surveillance program targeted Chinese cell-phone networks and Beijing's Tsinghua University.

The Xinhua news agency called on Washington to "share with the world the range, extent, and intent of its clandestine hacking programs."

Snowden faces charges in the United States of theft of government property, willful communication of classified information, and the unauthorized communication of defense information.

He could face up to 10 years in prison on each of the three charges.

Many in the United States view him as a traitor, while others consider him a heroic whistle-blower.

U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said on June 23 that Snowden's reported choice to fly to Cuba and Venezuela undermines his whistle-blower claims

Rogers said on a U.S. television talk show that "every one of those nations is hostile to the United States.”

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer criticized Russia for letting Snowden land in Moscow.

"What is infuriating here is [Russian President Vladimir] Putin aiding and abetting Snowden's escape," he told CNN's "State of the Union" program on June 23. "The bottom line is very simple: Allies are supposed to treat each other in decent ways. And Putin always seems almost eager to put a finger in the eye of the United States - whether it is Syria, Iran, and now of course with Snowden. That's not how allies should treat one another and I think it will have serious consequences for the United States-Russia relationship."

The administration of President Barack Obama has said the surveillance programs have helped to thwart as many as 50 terrorist plots, some of them aimed at targets in the United States.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP
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