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Snowden not on Morales jet in Vienna

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Austria insisted Wednesday that US fugitive intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was not on board Bolivian President Evo Morales's jet, which was diverted to Vienna overnight, but said it did not search the plane.

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," interior ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck told AFP.

The plane was however not searched, its passengers simply going through a passport check, he said. It remained stationed at Vienna airport early Wednesday.

"There was no legal basis for a search," Grundboeck explained.

Bolivian officials said earlier that Morales's plane, which took off from Moscow, had to stop in Vienna after France, Italy and Portugal denied it entry into their airspace.

Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca cited "unfounded rumours that Mr Snowden may have been on board the aircraft" for the diversion.

Bolivian authorities and Latin American allies have responded with outrage to the plane diversion, which has sparked a diplomatic row.

Grundboeck said the plane made the stop in Vienna due to overflight issues as well technical ones.

"At the moment the Bolivian government is working on establishing the rest of the flight route" and when the plane might leave depended on that, the spokesman added.

Morales, speaking to journalists at the airport along with his Austrian counterpart Heinz Fischer, said he was still awaiting permission to enter Spanish airspace.

He added the Spanish ambassador offered to have a coffee with him on board his plane, a proposal Morales rejected, saying it would represent a violation of international law.

Madrid has apparently asked for an inspection of the jet as a precondition for overflight, according to the Bolivian president.

Morales's diversion to the Austrian capital happened hours after he had said his country would consider a request for political asylum if Snowden submitted one.

The Bolivian president had been on a visit to Moscow, where Snowden has been holed up in an airport transit area since June 23. He is seeking to avoid US espionage charges for revealing a vast surveillance program to collect phone and Internet data.

Austria was one of a reported 21 countries where Snowden applied for asylum.

But Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said that only applications made within the country could be considered whereas Snowden's application was made at the embassy in Moscow.

Milk-Leitner described the decision to permit Morales to land in Vienna as "self-evident."

"It's proof that Austria is not afraid," she told the Austria Press Agency, adding that Europe's trust in the United States was "shattered" over allegations Washington spied on its allies.

A report in German weekly Der Spiegel at the weekend detailed alleged covert surveillance by the NSA on EU diplomatic missions in Washington, at the UN in New York and in Brussels.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130703/snowden-not-morales-jet-vienna-0