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Apology demanded over Morales' jet diversion

Six South American leaders condemn four EU states for 'virtual kidnapping' of Bolivian president.

Last Modified: 05 Jul 2013 09:08
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Evo Morales (L) lashed out at US ahead of a special meeting of South America's leaders [Reuters]

Six South American leaders have demanded an explanation and public apology from four European countries for diverting Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane earlier this week.

Morales' presidential plane landed in Austria on Tuesday night after France, Portugal, Italy and Spain closed their airspace over suspicions that the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden was aboard. The information was inaccurate and Morales, who was returning from a summit in Russia, was able to fly home on Wednesday.

At the summit in the Bolivian city Cochabamba on Thursday, five regional leaders joined Morales in denouncing his "virtual kidnapping" and the US pressure they believed spurred it behind the scenes.

At the end of the summit, which included the leaders of Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Surinam and Venezuela, a statement was issued demanding answers from France, Portugal, Italy and Spain, the European Union (EU) member states that closed their airspace. The US was not mentioned in the statement.

'We don't need US embassy'

Morales warned that he could close the US Embassy in Bolivia, blaming Washington for pressuring European countries to refuse to allow his plane to fly through their airspace in what he called a violation of international law.

"We don't need a US embassy in Bolivia," Morales said. "My hand would not shake to close the US embassy. We have dignity, sovereignty. Without the US, we are better politically, democratically."

We're here to tell President Evo Morales that he can count on us. Whoever picks a fight with Bolivia, picks a fight with Venezuela.

Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela

"Europe broke all the rules of the game," the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said in Cochabamba. "We're here to tell President Evo Morales that he can count on us. Whoever picks a fight with Bolivia, picks a fight with Venezuela."

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said he and the other leaders were offering "all of our support" to Morales following the rerouting of the plane, calling it an aggression against the Americas.

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

In a separate statement, Russia also criticised France, Spain and Portugal on Thursday for delaying the Bolivian president's flight home.

"The actions of the authorities of France, Spain and Portugal could hardly be considered friendly actions towards Bolivia [...] Russia calls on the international community to comply strictly with international legal principles," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

During his visit to Russia before his plane was forcefully landed, Morales suggested that he would be willing to consider a request from Snowden for asylum.

'Apologies not enough'

Morales, long a fierce critic of US policy towards Latin America, received a hero's welcome in an airport in the Bolivian capital of La Paz late on Wednesday night. His return followed the dramatic, unplanned 14-hour layover in Vienna.

France issued an apology to the Bolivian government. But Morales said "apologies are not enough because the stance is that international treaties must be respected."

Morales said he never saw Snowden when he was in Russia, and that Bolivia had not received a formal request for asylum for him.

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

Snowden, who leaked a National Security Agency surveillance programme, is far from public eye, believed to be at a transit area in an airport in Moscow.

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