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VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria allowed Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane to land because it did not share other countries' worries that former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden might be on board, Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said on Wednesday.
France and Portugal abruptly canceled air permits for Morales' plane en route from Moscow, forcing the unscheduled stopover in Vienna late on Tuesday.
An Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman said rumours that Snowden was on the plane were untrue.
"Austria did not close its airspace and the plane could of course land although many other countries apparently feared that Snowden was on board too," the minister told ORF radio. "Austria did not do that, which means there is no fear here."
Wanted by Washington for espionage after divulging classified details of U.S. phone and Internet surveillance, Snowden apparently remains in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.
He applied for asylum in Austria - and several other countries - via the country's Moscow embassy on Monday, which the government said was insufficient to grant him refuge.
Mikl-Leitner said it would be up to Austrian asylum authorities to decide what to do in the unlikely case that Snowden arrived there.
She defended Austria's position that Snowden would have to apply in person for asylum, saying this was clearly spelled out in the law.
"This is in the hands of the authorities and independent courts. The important thing here is that this would be judged individually, as in every other case," she said.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Alison Williams)