x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Bolivian leader Morales caught in Snowden-linked jet delay

The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, left Europe yesterday amid diplomatic drama after his flight had been rerouted and delayed overnight.

PARIS // The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, left Europe yesterday amid diplomatic drama after his flight had been rerouted and delayed overnight in Austria because of suspicions that the fugitive US intelligence analyst, Edward Snowden, was on his plane.

Bolivia accused the United States of ordering European countries to block Mr Morales' flight from their airspace and accused European governments of "aggression".

It is still unclear whether European countries did block the plane and, if so, why. French, Spanish and Portuguese officials all said yesterday the plane was allowed to cross their territory.

Mr Snowden, who revealed details of the US National Security Agency's telephone and internet spying programme, remains out of public view, believed to be stuck in a Moscow airport transit area, seeking asylum from one of more than a dozen countries.

Bolivia's president sparked speculation while on a visit to Russia after he said that his country would be willing to consider granting asylum to Mr Snowden.

The plane carrying Mr Morales home from a Moscow summit was rerouted to Vienna on Tuesday night, adding a new twist to the international uproar over Snowden's revelations of widespread US surveillance. The plane took off again shortly before noon yesterday after sitting overnight at the airport.

Austrian officials said the plane was searched early yesterday by Austrian border police after Mr Morales gave permission. Bolivian and Austrian officials both say Mr Snowden was not on board.

The emergency stop in Austria may have been caused by a dispute over where the plane could refuel and whether European authorities could inspect it for signs of Mr Snowden.

Mr Morales' aircraft asked controllers at Vienna airport to land because there was "no clear indication" that the plane had enough fuel to continue on its journey, an official in Vienna said.

Bolivia's ambassador to the United Nations, Sacha Llorenti, insisted yesterday that several European countries had refused permission for the plane to fly in their airspace.

Speaking in Geneva, Mr Llorenti said it was an "act of aggression" and that the four countries violated international law. "The orders came from the United States" but other nations violated the immunity of the president and his plane, putting his life at risk, he said.

There was no immediate US response to Mr Llorenti's accusation.