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Bolivia's Morales home after trip delayed by Snowden affair

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Bolivian President Evo Morales urged European countries to "free themselves from the US empire" as he arrived home late Wednesday after his plane was diverted because of suspicions US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was traveling with him.

Morales received a hero's welcome from dozens of cheering supporters when his aircraft touched down near La Paz almost 17 hours after leaving Vienna, an AFP reporter saw.

The jet, on its way home from Moscow, had been forced to land in the Austrian capital after several European nations denied it overfly rights, in an incident that sparked a diplomatic row and was likened by Morales to a "13-hour kidnapping".

"Some countries of Europe have to free themselves from the US empire," Morales told his supporters at the airport, who carried flowers, threw confetti and waved national flags.

"They are not going to frighten us, because we are a people with dignity and sovereignty," he said.

Bolivian officials said France, Italy, Spain and Portugal initially denied his plane the right to fly through their air space late Tuesday amid concerns that Snowden was aboard.

Bolivia has accused Washington of pressuring European countries to keep him from traveling home over the groundless rumours.

Late Wednesday, a group of around 100 protesters threw rocks and firecrackers at the French embassy in the Bolivian capital, smashing windows. They also burned French flags.

France has since apologised for temporarily refusing entry to Morales's jet, with President Francois Hollande saying there was "conflicting information" about the plane passengers.

Snowden is seeking to avoid US espionage charges after leaking embarrassing details of a vast US phone and Internet surveillance programme that has alarmed Washington's foreign allies.

The 30-year-old is currently holed up at a Moscow airport looking for a country that will give him safe haven.

Bolivia is one 21 countries Snowden has asked for asylum. Morales said earlier this week that his country would be willing to study the request.

Austrian officials confirmed Snowden was not traveling with Morales after being allowed to search the aircraft.

Once the European countries lifted their objections, Morales flew home via Spain and Brazil, where it made refueling stops.

Latin American nations have expressed outrage over the plane diversion.

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner called the European countries' behavior "colonialist." Her Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff said she was "indignant."

A meeting of a South American grouping called UNASUR has been convened for Thursday to analyze the way Morales was treated.

Bolivia has summoned the ambassadors or consuls of France, Portugal, Spain and Italy to explain what happened.

Bolivia also said it would a complaint with the United Nations.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon "understands the concerns raised by the Bolivian government regarding the actions that a number of states may have taken involving an aircraft carrying" Morales, said UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey.

"He is relieved that this unfortunate incident did not lead to consequences for the safety of President Morales and his entourage. He urges the states concerned to discuss the matter with full respect for the legitimate interests involved."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130704/bolivias-morales-home-after-trip-delayed-snowden-affair-2