Wednesday 13 November 2019

Bolivia in a flap over flight ban

Bolivia's Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca speaks during a press conference in La Paz, Bolivia (AP/Juan Karita)
Bolivia's Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca speaks during a press conference in La Paz, Bolivia (AP/Juan Karita)

Bolivia's president has left Europe for home amid diplomatic drama, a day after his flight was rerouted and delayed in Austria amid suggestions that he was trying to spirit whistleblower Edward Snowden away.

Bolivia demanded an explanation from various European countries it accused of thwarting President Evo Morales' flight.

French officials denied they refused to let the plane cross their airspace amid suspicions that Mr Snowden was aboard. Spain, too, said the plane was free to cross its territory.

The plane carrying Morales home from Moscow was rerouted to Austria on Tuesday night, in a new twist to the international uproar over Mr Snowden and the widespread US surveillance that he revealed. It took off again from Vienna on Wednesday.

Bolivian and Austrian officials both say Mr Snowden was not on the' plane. Mr Morales had suggested that his government would be willing to consider granting asylum to the American. Mr Snowden is believed to be in a Moscow airport transit area, seeking asylum from one of more than a dozen countries.

Bolivia's ambassador to the United Nations continued to insist that several European countries had refused permission for the plane to fly in their airspace. Sacha Llorenti said it was an "act of aggression" and that France, Portugal, Spain and Italy violated international law. He said "the orders came from the United States" but other nations violated the immunity of the president and his plane, putting his life at risk.

Bolivia said that France, Portugal and Italy blocked the plane from flying over their territories based on unfounded rumours that Mr Snowden was on board. Bolivia said Spain agreed to allow the plane to refuel in the Canary Islands - but only if Bolivian authorities agreed to allow it to be inspected.

"We don't know who invented this lie" that Snowden was traveling with Morales, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said in La Paz. "We want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales."

Austria said that the aircraft's pilot asked controllers at Vienna airport to land because there was "no clear indication" that the plane had enough fuel to continue on its journey.

Leaks by Mr Snowden, a former NSA systems analyst, have revealed the sweeping data collection of US phone records and some Internet traffic, although U.S. intelligence officials have said the programs target foreigners and terrorist suspects mostly overseas.

PA Media

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