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Bolivia fury after presidential jet diverted over Snowden row

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Bolivian President Evo Morales flew out of Austria on Wednesday after police inspected his jet and found that fugitive US leaker Edward Snowden was not on board in an incident that has sparked a diplomatic row.

Morales lashed out at European countries for denying his jet entry into their airspace overnight, dragging his country into the escalating US spying scandal.

"I am not a delinquent," Morales told reporters at Vienna airport where his plane was held up for more than 12 hours.

Bolivia's UN envoy Sacha Llorenti said the country would file a complaint to UN chief Ban Ki-moon over the diversion which he said "violated international law".

The diversion was an "act of aggression" against Bolivia and tantamount to "kidnapping" Morales, he told reporters in Geneva.

The Austrian interior ministry said airport police carried out a "voluntary inspection" of the jet, confirming Snowden was not on board.

The jet was carrying just five crew and six passengers, it said.

The plane eventually left Vienna shortly before 1200 GMT after Spain opened its airspace. The jet was on its way to the Spanish Canary Island of Las Palmas for servicing before continuing on to Bolivia.

The diversion of the flight, which originally took off from Moscow, occurred late Tuesday just hours after Morales said his country would consider giving political asylum to 30-year-old Snowden if he submitted one.

Bolivian officials accused France, Portugal, Italy and Spain of initially denying airspace to Morales's plane, forcing it to reroute over the groundless rumours that Snowden was travelling with Morales.

The 30-year-old intelligence leaker has been stranded in an airport transit zone in the Russian capital since June 23. He is seeking to avoid US espionage charges for revealing a vast surveillance program to collect phone and Internet data.

He has applied for asylum in 21 countries, including Austria and Bolivia.

Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said the unexpected landing had put Morales's life in danger.

Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck told AFP that Morales's plane "landed around 9:40pm (1940 GMT) from Moscow, passports were checked and contrary to rumours that have circulated, Edward Snowden was not on board."

-- Latin America outrage --

Bolivia's regional allies Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Nicaragua reacted angrily to the jet incident.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua meanwhile described the diversion by saying: "This is an attack against President Morales's life."

"We express our solidarity with Evo and the brave Bolivian people. Our America cannot tolerate so much abuse," Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa added on Twitter.

In La Paz, the presidential palace said protest rallies were already planned outside the embassies of the United States, France, Portugal and Italy.

Snowden has remained quiet and out of sight of reporters since arriving at Sheremetyevo Airport from Hong Kong.

Late Monday, he accused Washington of pressuring foreign leaders to refuse him refuge.

Snowden's latest major leak about US spying on EU countries has angered many European governments and threatened to derail preparations for delicate talks on a huge free trade deal between Washington and Brussels.

On Wednesday, Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said Europe's trust in the United States had been "shattered" by the allegations.

France meanwhile called for a temporary suspension of the trade talks.

"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," Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said after a cabinet session.

EU ambassadors are due to discuss the US spy allegations in Brussels on Thursday.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130703/bolivia-fury-after-presidential-jet-diverted-over-snowden-row-0