Grounding of Morales plane slammed

2013-07-03 10:48
Argentine President, Cristina Kirchner. (File, AFP)

Argentine President, Cristina Kirchner. (File, AFP)

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Cape Town – A number of South American countries have voiced their outrage after a plane carrying the President of Bolivia was grounded in Austria over suspicions the aircraft was carrying US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, reports said on Wednesday. Morales had been on a visit to Moscow, where Snowden has been holed up in an airport transit area for more than a week.

"Decisive hours for UNASUR! Either we graduated from the colonies, or we claim our independence, sovereignty and dignity. We are all Bolivia!" Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa posted in Spanish on Twitter, according to a Guardian translation.

According to the Guardian Correa said he was trying to convene a Unasur (Union of South American Nations) meeting with other South American leaders.

Ecuador was one of 21 countries from which Snowden, against whom the US has laid espionage charges for exposing an allegedly covert US surveillance programme, requested asylum. On Sunday, reports emanating from information leaked by Snowden revealed that US spying also extended to EU diplomats.

Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner has reportedly offered legal assistance to Morales.

Also tweeting in Spanish, Kirchner said "if Austria does not let them out or wants to check the plane, he can present to the International Court of Justice to ask for a preliminary injunction", adding that she did not know whether "to laugh or cry".

'What a world'

The Guardian said the Argentinean president said a judge could be sent to Austria.

"Mother of God! What a world!" she exclaimed.

Speaking at a midnight press conference, the Bolivian vice president, Alvaro Garcia, said Morales had been "kidnapped by imperialism", the AP reported.

"The president has been kidnapped by imperialism, and he is being held in Europe," he said, calling for workers worldwide to protest "this act of imperial arrogance".

Cuba's Foreign Ministry released a statement condemning the incident, said a CNN report.

"This constitutes an unacceptable, unfounded and arbitrary act which offends all of Latin America and the Caribbean," the statement said.

Rumours unfounded

Bolivia's foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, told reporters France and Portugal had closed their airspace to the presidential plane over the "huge lie" that Snowden was on board. Defence Minister Ruben Saavedra said Italy closed its airspace as well, AFP reported on Wednesday.

"The president was forced to land in Vienna," said Choquehuanca, alleging that Morales's life had been put in danger by what he called a forced emergency landing.

"There were unfounded rumours that Mr Snowden may have been on board the aircraft. We have no idea who made up this huge lie."

The Bolivian leader was attending a meeting of natural gas-producing nations in Moscow and had met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier, Morales told Russian media his country would "debate and consider" granting political asylum to Snowden "if there were a request".

Bolivia is also one of 21 nations to which Snowden had applied for asylum, according to the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks website.

President's life in danger

"Bolivia is there to shield the [accused], whether it is espionage or control. In either case, we are here to assist," Morales told Russia's state-run RT television in comments translated by the channel from Spanish.

Choquehuanca said Morales's plane had been scheduled to refuel in Portugal, but both Lisbon and then Paris denied overflight.

"Inexplicably we were informed [by Lisbon] that the overflight and landing permission had been cancelled," the top diplomat said.

The plane was re-routed to include a stop in Spain's Canary islands, but France then refused to allow overflight of its territory, Choquehuanca said.

"We would like to make it known that we are unhappy and upset because the president's life has been put in danger," he said.

The Guardian quoted an Austrian foreign ministry spokesperson who spoke on ORF radio on Wednesday and said Austria allowed Morales's plane to land because it had no fear Snowden might be on board, an Austrian foreign ministry spokesperson told ORF radio. He said:

"Austria did not close its airspace and the plane could of course land although many other countries apparently feared that Snowden was on board too. Austria did not do that, which means there is no fear here."

In a video posted on the Guardian's website a reporter at the Austrian airport where Morales' plane is grounded questions him briefly about his hours-long stay at the airport and how long he expects it to last?

"We're waiting. I'm sure there are discussions going on."

Read more on:    wikileaks  |  edward snowden  |  cristina kirchner  |  evo morales  |  ecuador  |  argentina  |  us  |  russia  |  bolivia  |  espionage  |  privacy

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