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France apologizes to Bolivia for blocking president’s plane; Bolivia calls it 'virtual kidnapping'

France has apologized to Bolivia for not allowing President Evo Morales’ private plane to fly over its airspace on July 2.

morales 07 02 2013Enlarge
Bolivian President Evo Morales waves from his plane in Vienna on Wednesday. (Patrick Domingo/AFP/Getty Images)

France has apologized to Bolivia for not allowing President Evo Morales’ private plane to fly over its airspace on July 2.

Suspecting that Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower who’s been hiding out in a Moscow airport, was onboard, France, along with Spain and Portugal, blocked Morales’ plane, forcing it to land in Vienna to refuel.

While in Vienna, the plane was searched, revealing that Morales, flying back to Bolivia after attending an energy conference in Russia, wasn’t giving a lift to any fugitives.

Russia quickly condemned the move saying that it was not a "friendly step."

More from GlobalPost: Bolivian president's plane grounded and searched for Snowden

French President Francois Hollande told reporters that permission to fly over was delayed because of “conflicting information” about its passengers, BBC News reported. He claims he granted permission for the plane to fly over France as soon as he knew it was carrying Morales.

"The foreign minister called his Bolivian counterpart to tell him about France's regrets after the incident caused by the late confirmation of permission for President Morales' plane to fly over (French) territory," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said, according to Al Jazeera.

The Bolivian government said it had filed a formal complaint with the United Nations, Reuters reported. "We have no doubt that it was an order from the White House,” Bolivia's ambassador to the United Nations, Sacha Llorenti Soliz, said. “By no means should a diplomatic plane with the president be diverted from its route and forced to land in another country."

Bolivia's Vice-President Alvaro Garcia told BBC News that a group of Latin American leaders would meet in Cochabamba, Bolivia, today to discuss how to respond to the lack of respect shown to the South American leader.

Bolivian officials are calling it a "virtual kidnapping" spurred by the US.

On Thursday, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca called for those involved in diverting the flight to be punished.

"We feel hurt, offended and outraged. This is an aggression against democracy and the peaceful coexistence of nations," Choquehuanca told BBC Mundo.

When Morales finally arrived back in Bolivia on Wednesday evening, members of his Cabinet and cheering crowds greeted him at La Paz’s airport, Reuters reported.

"This was an open provocation toward a continent, not just a president," Morales told the crowd. "North American imperialism uses its people to terrify and intimidate us. I just want to say they will never frighten us because we are a people of dignity and sovereignty."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/130704/france-apologizes-bolivia-blocking-president-s-plane