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HOT POTATO: Bolivian president's jet rerouted over fear that whistleblower Snowden was on board

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 3rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was rerouted to Austria after several European nations refused to let it into their airspace due to suspicions that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was on board. Officials in both Austria and Bolivia later confirmed that Snowden was not on the plane, which was taking President Morales home from a summit in Russia. Morales had previously suggested that his government would be willing to grant Snowden asylum.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca angrily said that France and Portugal would have to explain why they canceled authorization for the plane. The decision had placed President Morales' life at risk. "We don't know who invented this lie" that Snowden was traveling with Morales, Choquehuanca said in La Paz. "We want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales."

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia later revealed that in addition to France and Portugal, Italy and Spain also denied letting the presidential plane fly through their airspace.

Choquehuanca did say that Spain's government allowed Morales' plane to refuel in its territory before flying on to Vienna.

Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra described Morales as being "kidnapped by imperialism" in Europe. "The ambassador for Spain in Austria has just informed us that there is no authorization to fly over Spanish territory and that at 9 a.m. Wednesday they would be in contact with us again," he said, adding that the Spanish government had put as a condition for passage the "revision of the presidential plane."

French officials couldn't confirm whether Morales' plane was denied permission to fly over France. Officials at Portugal's Foreign Ministry and National Civil Aviation Authority could not be reached to comment.

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. U.S. intelligence officials insist that the programs are aimed at targeting foreigners and terrorist suspects mostly overseas.

Snowden is believed to be in a Moscow airport transit area, seeking asylum from one of more than a dozen countries.

Bolivia's foreign minister had earlier said officials did not know who was behind the "lie" that Snowden was on Morales' plane. "We want to declare very firmly that it was an American story that Edward Snowden was on this flight," Saavedra at the VIP terminal of Vienna's airport said. "This is a plot by the U.S. government to destroy president Morales' image. We say this simply is a lie. And we will confirm this."

In Washington, the State Department would not comment directly when asked to speak to the matter. Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell would not discuss how the Obama administration might respond if Snowden left the Moscow airport. "We're not there yet," he said.

Snowden has applied for asylum in Venezuela, Bolivia and 18 other countries, according to WikiLeaks. 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.

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