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Russia condemns France, Spain, Portugal for blocking Morales’s flight

RUSSIA: Russia on Thursday condemned France, Spain and Portugal for blocking the flight from Moscow to La Paz of Bolivian President Evo Morales, over suspicions that US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was on board.

“The action of the French, Spanish and Portuguese authorities can hardly be viewed as a friendly step toward Bolivia or Russia,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The plane carrying Morales was forced to land in Vienna after several European nations denied it overfly rights.

Morales urged European countries to “free themselves from the US empire” as he arrived home late Wednesday.

While in Moscow on Tuesday, Morales said Bolivia would consider Snowden's request for political asylum, a comment that apparently sparked the European concern.

Security analysts in Moscow said Morales could not have taken Snowden even if he had wanted to, because the US fugitive was staying in Sheremetyevo international airport and is being denied access past Russian passport control.

Morales's plane left from another international airport on the other end of Moscow called Vnukovo, which is primarily used by visiting dignitaries, as well as Russian government officials.

The Bolivian government accused European countries of placing the life of Morales in danger, a comment echoed by the Russian foreign ministry.

“The denial of overfly rights to the aircraft could have created a threat to the security of the onboard passengers, including the head of a sovereign state,” the Russian foreign ministry statement said.

Meanwhile, EU ambassadors were to hold talks in Brussels Thursday to agree a common stance on allegations of US spying on European premises and embassies that have sparked outrage across the bloc.

The claims have threatened to derail long-awaited EU-US talks about a massive free trade deal, expected to boost both sides' economies by billions of dollars.

European countries have responded with alarm to revelations attributed to Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency (NSA), that the US was systematically seizing vast amounts of Internet and telephone data around the world.

Reports in the Guardian and Der Spiegel in recent days have detailed widespread covert surveillance by the NSA of EU offices, including diplomatic missions in Washington and at the United Nations in New York, as well as at the 28-member bloc's Brussels headquarters.

The allegations threatened to hurt free trade talks with Washington, although Berlin and Paris struck a note of discord on Wednesday over the issue.

AFP

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