BOLIVIA has accused the United States of putting the life of President Evo Morales at risk after "ordering" his plane to be diverted and searched on suspicion of harbouring Edward Snowden, the fugitive former CIA technician.
Mr Morales left Moscow on Tuesday night to fly home after attending a gas exporters' conference but his plane was diverted to Austria, apparently because there were claims that he had Mr Snowden on board. Mr Morales said his overnight stay in Vienna was "like a near 13-hour kidnapping". "I am not a delinquent," he said.
It was the latest twist in the international drama surrounding Mr Snowden. The former CIA and National Security Agency (NSA) computer technician has been in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport since June 23, after flying in from Hong Kong.
He is seeking asylum in a string of countries because the US wants him on espionage charges for disclosing top-secret NSA spying programmes, including widespread spying on American citizens.
The chain of events which led to Mr Morales's Vienna diversion appeared to have been caused by him saying that Bolivia was ready in principle to offer Mr Snowden refuge.
The Bolivian leader's aircraft was rerouted after leaving the Russian capital and ended up sitting at the airport in the Austrian capital overnight. He did not fly out until 11.30am local time. Angry Bolivian officials said the plane had been forced to land because France, Portugal and Italy blocked it from flying over their territories, acting on orders from the US, which suspected Mr Snowden was being smuggled out of Russia.
David Choquehuanca, the Bolivian foreign minister, told a news conference in the capital La Paz that Mr Snowden was not on board the president's jet.
He said Bolivia wanted to "express our displeasure" with the alleged decision to force the plane off its route. "It's discrimination against our president," he added. "The life of our president has been put at risk."
The 12-nation UNASUR group of South American countries weighed in, saying it "rejects categorically the dangerous act" of denying access to Mr Morales's plane.
Austrian officials who searched the aircraft with Mr Morales's permission confirmed that Mr Snowden was not on board. (© Daily Telegraph, London)