Venezuela offers asylum to U.S. intelligence leaker

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Friday he has decided to offer humanitarian asylum to former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

In a televised speech for the anniversary of the country's independence, Maduro said he will grant asylum to Snowden so that he can live without "prosecution from the empire," referring to the United States.

Snowden, a fugitive former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed U.S. surveillance programs, had sought asylum and asylum assistance from more than 20 countries including Venezuela, according to the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks which is supporting him.

Maduro, the successor to the late anti-U.S. socialist Hugo Chavez, earlier showed his readiness to accept the asylum request from Snowden.

Snowden is believed to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport. If the Venezuelan embassy in Moscow permits, Snowden may be allowed to fly from there, but it still remains to be seen whether his asylum to Venezuela would be realized.

On Friday, Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega also offered asylum to Snowden.

Snowden has been charged by U.S. authorities with espionage and theft of government property in connection with revelations of alleged NSA Internet and phone surveillance.