Ecuador said Wednesday that it would take months to
decide on Edward Snowden's asylum request, in which the fugitive US
whistleblower said that he feared political persecution and the death
sentence in his home country.
Snowden remained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport for a fourth day, amid media reports that he was trapped without valid travel documents after the United States had cancelled his passport.
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said Wednesday that an asylum request by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange had taken two months to decide.
"So do not expect us to make an earlier decision [in Snowden's case]", he told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Russian media reported.
Snowden had applied for asylum in Ecuador after he arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong Sunday.
The Ecuadorian embassy in Moscow said that Snowden argued that he expected political prosecution in the United States. "He fears not to get a fair trial and the risk of being sentenced to life imprisonment or death", the embassy said in a statement.
Washington has said that the former intelligence contractor who exposed details of US online spying activities, should be extradited and tried for espionage.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected the idea of handing Snowden over, arguing that there was no extradition treaty between Russia and the United States.
Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for US President Barack Obama's National Security Council, said there was "a clear legal basis" to expel Snowden even without an extradition treaty because he faces legal charges and his passport has been revoked.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said Monday that his organization supplied Snowden with a refugee document of passage by the Ecuadorian government before he left Hong Kong.
Ecuadorian officials have not commented.
Wikileaks said that the US actions prevent Snowden to leave Moscow. "Cancelling Snowden's passport and bullying intermediary countries may keep Snowden permanently in Russia," it tweeted. "Not the brightest bunch at State," it added, referring to the US State Department.
It did not specify which intermediary countries it believes are being bullied by the United States.
The anti-secrecy organisation has said that it is aiding Snowden to get to Ecuador via a "safe route."
Snowden was expected to fly to Cuba on the only direct flight to Latin America from Sheremetyevo. Journalists who had bought tickets for Monday's or Tuesday's flight were disappointed after he failed to show up.
The next flight to Havana is Thursday.
Wikileaks said Wednesday that Snowden is being escorted "at all times" by its activist Sarah Harrison. However, as of Wednesday evening, none of the dozens of reporters keeping watch at Sheremetyevo airport had sighted either Snowden or Harrison.
Pro-Kremlin pundits said Moscow should grant refuge to Snowden. "Civil society must call upon the Russian authorities to keep Snowden in Russia," Veronika Krasheninnikova, an expert known for her anti-US views, told the Interfax news agency.
Putin had said that the earlier Snowden "chooses his next destination, the better for us and for him."
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Snowden had not applied for asylum in his country but any application would be given due consideration.
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