News Column

Snowden Asylum Efforts Met With Widespread Rejection

July 2, 2013

dpa correspondents

Many of the 21 countries to which fugitive U.S. whistle-blower Edward Snowden has applied for asylum said Tuesday they had rejected - or would reject - his requests because he was not on their territory.

The 30-year-old former intelligence contractor, whose US passport has been revoked, has been camped out in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for more than a week.

He is seeking to avoid extradition to the United States on espionage charges for leaking details about wide-ranging US surveillance programmes.

Ireland, Finland, Norway, France, Germany, Spain and Austria said asylum requests could not be made from outside the country.

Whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, which has taken up Snowden's cause, said the applications were submitted late Sunday by the group's lawyer, Sarah Harrison, to an official at the Russian consulate at the airport.

Russia, one of the 21 countries, said Snowden had withdrawn his application after Moscow said it would only be granted on condition he stop leaking US classified information and damaging "our American partners."

A Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman said the country had "no interest" in offering Snowden asylum, while India said it saw "no reason to accede to the request."

Italy and Ecuador - which is sheltering Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in its London embassy - said they could only consider the request if Snowden entered one of their respective embassies.

Visiting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro avoided responding to reporters in Moscow when asked if he would take Snowden back with him.

"What we will take with us ... is numerous agreements, which we will sign with Russia, particularly in oil and gas," the Itar Tass news agency quoted him as saying.

China declined to comment on the request. Wu Qiang, a political analyst at Beijing's Tsinghua University, told dpa it was technically possible, but politically unlikely, that the request would be granted.

Snowden has also applied to Switzerland - which said it had not yet received a request - and Brazil, Bolivia, Cuba, Iceland, the Netherlands and Nicaragua, according to Wikileaks.

Meanwhile, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador said his country had given Snowden a temporary travel document to allow him to travel from Hong Kong to Moscow in error.

"It was a mistake on our part," Correa told the Guardian newspaper.

"Look, this crisis hit us in a very vulnerable moment. Our foreign minister was touring Asia. Our deputy foreign minister was in the Czech Republic. Our US ambassador was in Italy."

The Ecuadorean consul in London had issued the document "in his desperation, probably he couldn't reach the foreign minister," Correa said.

Quito would not issue documents to help Snowden leave Moscow, Correa said, making clear that the former spy was now Russia's responsibility. Ecuador would only consider an asylum request made on its own soil, he said.

By contrast, Snowden praised Ecuador's "bravery" in a letter written in Spanish to Correa and leaked late Monday.

He expressed to the Ecuadorean leader his "deep respect for your principles and sincere thanks for your government's action in considering my request for political asylum."

"There are few world leaders who would risk standing for the human rights of an individual against the most powerful government on earth, and the bravery of Ecuador and its people is an example to the world," he wrote.

He also accused the US of launching an "extrajudicial manhunt" against him and, in a separate statement released by Wikileaks, said that President Barack Obama was pressuring countries to which he had made asylum applications.

"The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon," he said.

Revelations by Snowden that the US National Security Agency has been spying on European Union countries have strained relations between Washington and Brussels and raised fears that a landmark US-EU trade deal could be delayed.

The allegations were a "severe strain" on the agreement, said German Economy Minister Philip Roesler, whose country has been shaken by revelations that it was targeted by the US far more than other EU countries.

French President Francois Hollande said: "Europe must have a coordinated, common position on the demands we have to formulate and the explanations we have to seek (from the US)."

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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