News Column

Bolivian President Steamed Over Snowden Flap

July 3, 2013

Albert Otti, Sinikka Tarvainen, Clare Byrne, Alexandra Mayer-Hohdahl

Bolivian President Evo Morales reacted furiously Wednesday to the refusal by several European countries to let his plane overfly their territory due to rumours that US fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden was on board.

Morales was forced to divert to Vienna on Tuesday night, on his way back from a meeting in Russia.

Bolivia said France, Portugal, Spain and Italy barred his plane from their airspace on suspicion that Snowden, who is trying to avoid extradition to the US on espionage charges, was travelling with him.

The restrictions had been lifted by Wednesday morning, after it became clear that Snowden was not on board. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy confirmed Snowden's absence as Morales resumed his journey home, with a technical stopover in the Canary Islands in the late afternoon.

But the Bolivian leader was furious at his treatment, which he saw as "not an insult to the president, but to an entire people, to the entire region of Latin America."

Speaking at the Vienna airport before his departure, he said he felt he had been "abducted, for nearly 13 hours" and threatened legal action against the governments of Spain, France, Portugal and Italy.

The four countries "need to explain to the world the reasons for this arrest," Morales said.

Diplomats from Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru, Venezuela and Colombia issued a joint declaration in Madrid accusing European governments of "aggression" in denying Morales entry into their airspace.

Their attitude had endangered the president's life, the ambassadors complained. European countries had treated the Bolivian president in a "colonial" fashion, complained David Nieves, the Venezuelan consul to Gran Canaria.

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera accused the European countries of doing the bidding of the US. "Evo Morales has been made a hostage of imperialism," he said.

Morales was returning from a meeting of top gas-producing countries in Moscow, where Snowden has spent more than a week in diplomatic limbo in an airport transit area.

The 30-year-old former intelligence contractor, whose US passport has been revoked, is wanted in the United States for leaking thousands of documents containing revelations about US spying programmes.

He has sought asylum - so far in vain - first from Ecuador and then from 20 other countries, including Bolivia.

Morales poured scorn on the idea that he would smuggle Snowden on board. Snowden was "not a suitcase, not an animal, not a fly which I can put on the plane and take to Bolivia," he said.

He also denied Austrian claims that police had searched his plane for the whistle-blower.

The affair ratcheted up tensions between Europe and Latin America.

The governments of Ecuador and Argentina called for an extraordinary session of the Union of South American Nations to register a formal protest.

Meanwhile, the fallout from allegations that the US National Security Agency had conducted massive spying of European allies continued ahead of the planned start of talks on a mammoth EU-US trade deal.

French government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem called for a "temporary suspension" of the trade talks until the US provides explanations on reports that it bugged EU offices and embassies and monitored huge volumes of communications in Germany and France.

"This is not about stopping negotiations on the free trade agreement, but it does seem wise to temporarily suspend them, probably for a period of 15 days, to avoid controversy and to give time to obtain the requested information," she said.

But in Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said the talks should begin on Monday as planned.

"The (European) Commission wants to start negotiations on July 8, and, in this, it has the support of the German government," spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

In Brussels, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding warned that "for the trade agreement with the EU to be a success story, there needs to be confidence, transparency and clarity among the negotiating partners - and this of course excludes spying on EU institutions."

Reding was speaking at a debate in the European Parliament, which saw lawmakers at odds over how to proceed with the trade deal. Many believe that it will boost growth and jobs in the crisis-plagued EU.

"We cannot sacrifice everything on the altar of this," Socialist parliamentarian Dimitrios Droutsas said. "We cannot back down on the fundamental rights of European citizens and our self-respect (for) economics."

"I think it would be severely misguided to now suspend talks on the free trade agreement," liberal parliamentarian Sophia in 't Veld shot back. "But it is absolutely clear that we cannot sign an agreement with a partner that we cannot fully trust."

dpa cds ay rdp al sit cfb amh ncs npr Authors: Albert Otti, Sinikka Tarvainen, Clare Byrne, Alexandra Mayer-Hohdahl

031612 GMT Jul 13

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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