Snowden Search: Bolivia Irate over Forced Landing

Photo Gallery: Morales Forced to Land in Vienna Photos
DPA

Bolivia is furious that a plane carrying President Evo Morales was forced to land in Vienna on Tuesday night after false rumors circulated that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board. The country has called it a "direct attack" on the leader.

Bolivian President Evo Morales hadn't intended to spend Tuesday night enjoying the comforts of the VIP lounge in Vienna's international airport. But he apparently had little choice. Just after midnight, his government plane -- heading back to South America after attending an energy conference in Moscow -- was forced to land in the Austrian capital.

Several European countries had allegedly denied the Bolivian aircraft overflight rights after rumors began flying that National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board.

Morales resumed his flight home shortly before noon on Wednesday, but the incident is almost sure to have diplomatic repercussions. Bolivian officials are furious and several South American leaders have likewise voiced anger at the treatment meted out to the head of state.

"We don't know who invented this lie," Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca told reporters in La Paz of the allegations that Snowden was on Morales' plane. "We want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales." The country's vice president, Alvaro Garcia, went even further in a midnight press conference in La Paz. He said that Morales had been "kidnapped by imperialism" in Europe.

French Denials

Snowden is wanted by the United States for having revealed the degree to which the American intelligence agency NSA keeps tabs on international Internet traffic and telecommunications. Documents seen by SPIEGEL from Snowden's leak also showed that the US bugged European Union diplomatic missions in Washington, DC, and New York as well as installing electronic eavesdropping equipment in EU communications systems. Snowden, who is believe to still be in the transit area of the Moscow airport, applied for asylum in 21 countries on Tuesday. Many of those countries, including Germany, have denied his application.

According to initial reports, France, Portugal and Italy had denied Morales' plane overflight rights. Bolivia also said that Spain had offered to allow the plane to stop in the Canary Islands to refuel, but only on the condition that Spanish officials be allowed to inspect the plane. But on Wednesday morning, both France and Spain denied the claims, saying that the plane had permission to fly over their countries. There was no comment offered as to why Bolivia claimed otherwise.

It is also unclear why European countries would withdraw overflight rights, if indeed they did so. A European Commission spokeswoman on Wednesday said Brussels was still trying to figure out exactly what happened. She told Reuters that it is up to individual member states to make decisions about their airspace, but added: "At the moment it is not entirely clear what happened this morning, why the French and Portuguese decided to divert the flight."

'Direct Attack'

South American leaders appear to be taking the incident seriously, with Ecuador and Argentina having called for an extraordinary meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to address the issue. The Venezuelan government added that it was a clear violation of the diplomatic immunity that all heads of state enjoy.

Bolivia too has not been shy about using aggressive rhetoric to voice its displeasure. The country's ambassador to the United Nations, Sacha Llorenti, said that Austria's decision to search the plane was an act of aggression and in violation of international law. He added that La Paz will be addressing the incident through United Nations channels. Llorenti added that he had no doubt that "the orders came from the United States" to force Morales' plane to land and suggested that the move had put the president's life at risk.

Bolivian Defense Minister Rubén Saavedra, who was also on board the plane, told journalists in Vienna that the forced landing was a "direct attack on the president."

Deputy Austrian Chancellor Michael Spindelegger said that Morales had agreed to an inspection of his plane on a voluntary basis. "Our colleagues from the airport had a look and can give assurances that no one is on board who is not a Bolivian citizen," he told reporters in Vienna. Austrian President Heinz Fischer went to the Vienna airport on Wednesday morning to meet with Morales. The pair gave an impromptu joint press conference.

cgh -- with wire reports

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1. Heavy Handed
peterboyle.4848 07/03/2013
The US is applying pressure to it's proposed Trading Partners, and they are caving in to that pressure. How do you think it will work once a Trade Deal is signed? Will European Trade Laws be held stronger than European Privacy Laws? Does 'Business' trump 'Human Rights'? The metadata collected by the US and England (two self appointed Special Cases) can be used to find 'relationships' between supposed terrorists, but it can also reveal 'hidden secrets' of politicians, ministers and public officials who are then subject to pressure from the Special Cases on the threat of revelation on those secrets. That is called Blackmail. Merkel lived under STASI domination, and knows full well the dangers of blanket spying on ordinary Citizens, Secret Courts, and assination - all of which the US is doing.
2. Sake of respect
g.messere 07/03/2013
I personally think that Mr. Snowden should be accepted as a guest by, let's say, Germany, showing a strong presence on this issue. Because Germany is the most involved country in this problem and need more than other explainations. Probably this would be a good reason for usa to start to respect more, the so called 3rd party partners.
3. optional
tatianafromitaly 07/03/2013
The countries denying asylum to this traitor are right. He deserves nothing but life in prison.
4. Snowden
MikeBrooks 07/03/2013
Well, the European leaders were just following orders... What is sickening about this entire affair is that every move the government of Europe have made has proven that they are complicit with Obama in espionage against their own people.
5. optional
aldofromsf 07/03/2013
I cannot believe my own eyes reading how Obama is turning western European countries into banana republics.
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