Bolivian president's plane redirected over Snowden suspicions

Bolivia claims that its president was "abducted" and that his plane's rerouting violates terms set by the Vienna Convention.

Edward Snowden The Guardian/Screenshot by CNET

The plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was redirected to Austria after a number of European countries refused to allow airspace use due to concerns that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board.

According to Bolivian officials and the Associated Press, the plane was due to take Morales back to Bolivia after a convention in Moscow to discuss gas-exporting countries. However, after suspicions arose that Snowden was on board, the plane was forced to redirect to Vienna where the Bolivian president spent the night.

In response, the Bolivian President's Ministry released a statement denouncing the move and claiming that Evo Morales was "abducted." During a press conference in the Presidential Palace in La Paz, Bolivia, Vice President Garcia Linera commented (approximate translation):

We don't know who invented this lie. We want to tell the world that President Evo Morales, our president, President of the Bolivians, [has been] abducted in Europe and we want to tell the people of the world that President Evo Morales has been hijacked by imperialism.

The Bolivian President's Ministry said that by diverting the plane, the Vienna Convention was broken after France, Portugal, Italy, and Spain refused to authorize the use of their airspace and airports.

The Vienna Convention (PDF) stipulates that country leaders should not be hindered while traveling, and as several European governments prohibited the use of airspace over the Snowden suspicions, Morales believes this has broken the treaty.

Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Schallenberg told the AP that Snowden was not on board. Linera believes that the United States government was behind Europe's refusal to allow the plane's use of airspace, saying:

We know that this trip obstruction of President Evo has been instructed by the U.S. government, the U.S. government is afraid that a peasant, a native fear, fear of an honest man who defends the sovereignty of our homeland.

In addition, Venezuela Foreign Minister Elias Jaua believes that by changing the flight's route without checking fuel levels, Morales' life was placed in danger.

Snowden is wanted by the U.S. government after leaking documents to the media over the National Security Agency's surveillance practices. The U.S. government has revoked his passport, and Snowden is believed to be within the Moscow airport's transit lounge while applying for asylum to over a dozen countries. A number of countries, including Norway and Spain, have said that asylum applications must be made on the country's soil.

The 30 year-old withdrew an asylum bid to stay in Russia after President Vladmir Putin added a condition to asylum -- that Snowden must stop "his work aimed at harming our American partners." However, Russia does not have an extradition treaty with the United States, and Putin does not plan to hand over the whistleblower.

In a statement posted to WikiLeaks, Snowden said:

On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic "wheeling and dealing" over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.

This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.

 

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