July 3, 2013 10:58:59 AM
PARIS -- Bolivia's president left Europe for home on Wednesday amid diplomatic drama, a day after his flight was rerouted and delayed in Austria amid suggestions that he was trying to spirit NSA leaker Edward Snowden to Latin America.
Bolivia demanded explanation from various European countries it accused of thwarting President Evo Morales' flight.
French officials denied Wednesday that France refused to let the plane cross over its airspace amid suspicions that 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 Tuesday night, in a new twist to the international uproar over Snowden and the widespread U.S. surveillance that he revealed. It took off again from Vienna shortly before noon Wednesday.
Bolivian and Austrian officials both say Snowden was not on Morales' plane, which left Moscow on Tuesday following a summit. Morales had suggested that his government would be willing to consider granting asylum to the American.
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, speaking in Geneva Wednesday, 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.
Llorenti 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.
Bolivian officials said that France, Portugal and Italy blocked the plane from flying over their territories based on unfounded rumors that 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.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said Wednesday that Morales' plane had authorization to fly over France. French officials would not comment on why Bolivian officials said otherwise.
Spain's foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the country on Tuesday authorized Morales' plane to fly within its airspace and to make the Canary Islands refueling stop and gave the authorization again on Wednesday morning after Bolivian authorities repeated the request.
A foreign ministry official declined comment when asked if Spain demanded the right to inspect the plane. The Spanish spoke on condition of anonymity because of ministry rules.
Officials in Portugal did not return repeated telephone messages seeking comment and Italian officials were not available to speak on the subject Wednesday morning.
In Vienna, an official said that 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.
The official, who demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to go public with the information, said Austrian authorities could not comment on whether the plane was denied overflights by other countries.
"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."
In a midnight press conference in La Paz, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia described Morales as being "kidnapped by imperialism" in Europe.
Leaks by Snowden, a former NSA systems analyst, have revealed the NSA's sweeping data collection of U.S. phone records and some Internet traffic, though U.S. intelligence officials have said the programs target foreigners and terrorist suspects mostly overseas.
French President Francois Hollande has firmly criticized reported surveillance of U.S. allies by the National Security Agency. Several French politicians on the far left and right have said France should offer Snowden asylum, but the French government has said it hasn't received any asylum request from him and has not offered public support for Snowden.
Snowden has applied for asylum in Venezuela, Bolivia and 18 other countries, according to WikiLeaks, a secret spilling website that has been advising him. Many European countries on the list -- including Austria, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland -- said he would have to make his request on their soil.