Monday 22 January 2018

Morales: I could close US embassy

Bolivia's President Evo Morales acknowledge supporters at an extraordinary meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia (AP/Juan Karita)
Bolivia's President Evo Morales acknowledge supporters at an extraordinary meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia (AP/Juan Karita)

President Evo Morales warned he could close the US embassy in Bolivia as South America's left-wing leaders rallied round after his plane was rerouted amid suspicions that Edward Snowden was on board.

Mr Morales again blamed Washington for pressuring European countries to refuse to allow his plane to fly through their airspace on Tuesday, forcing it to land in Vienna, Austria, in what he called a violation of international law.

He had been returning from a summit in Russia during which he had suggested he would be willing to consider a request from Mr Snowden for asylum.

"Being united will defeat American imperialism. We met with the leaders of my party and they asked us for several measures and if necessary, we will close the embassy of the United States," said Mr Morales. "We do not need the embassy of the United States."

Mr Morales spoke as the leaders of Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Uruguay joined him in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for a special meeting to address the diplomatic row. Latin American leaders were outraged by the incident, calling it a violation of national sovereignty and a slap in the face for a region that has suffered through humiliations by Europe and several US-backed military coups.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said he and the other leaders were offering "all of our support" to Mr Morales following the rerouting of the plane, calling it an aggression against the Americas. And Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro protested at alleged attempts by Spanish officials to search the plane.

Mr Morales has said that while the plane was parked in Vienna, the Spanish ambassador to Austria arrived with two embassy staff and asked to search the plane. He said he denied them permission.

Mr Morales, long a fierce critic of US policy towards Latin America, received a hero's welcome in an airport in Bolivian capital of La Paz early on Thursday, following the dramatic, unplanned 14-hour stopover in Vienna.

Bolivia's government said France, Spain and Portugal refused to let the president's plane through their airspace because of suspicions that Mr Snowden was with Morales. France sent an apology to the Bolivian government, but Mr Morales said "apologies are not enough because the stance is that international treaties must be respected". Spain's Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said his country did not bar Mr Morales from landing in its territory.

Bolivia has said that it will summon the French and Italian ambassadors and the Portuguese consul to demand explanations.

Press Association

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