Russia said that it could grant asylum to the fugitive former spy Edward Snowden, as President Barack Obama came under pressure from Europe over American spying on emails and telephone records.
Asked if the 29-year-old could claim asylum from Russia, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin told the newspaper 'Kommersant': "If such a request is received, it will be considered." Any attempt by the Kremlin to give refuge to Mr Snowden, amid calls for his prosecution under the US Espionage Act, is likely to infuriate the White House and provoke a major diplomatic stand-off.
Tapping into lingering Cold-War rivalries, such talk of asylum was quickly embraced by Russian government supporters. Alexei Pushkov, the head of the State Duma's international affairs committee, said: "By promising asylum to Snowden, Moscow undertakes protection of those persecuted according to political motives. In the United States there will be hysteria. They only recognise their own right to do that."
Meanwhile, the EU demanded assurances from Washington that Europeans were not having their rights infringed by the US surveillance system exposed by Mr Snowden's leaks. Viviane Reding, the EU justice commissioner, said she would meet Eric Holder, the US attorney general, on Friday and would seek assurances that Europeans' data protection rights were respected.
"This case shows why a clear legal framework for the protection of personal data is not a luxury but a necessity," she said.
One surveillance programme, code-named Prism, appears to give US-intelligence officials extensive access to the emails and social network accounts of foreigners said to be under suspicion. (© Daily Telegraph, London)