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South American nations furious over diversion of Bolivian president’s plane: Snowden is a whistleblower, not a spy Full coverage of the NSA files: Austrian journalist tells me: Bolivia did not give permission to have Morales’ plane searched, but airport policeman allowed to walk through!

July 3, 2013
  1. South American nations furious over diversion of Bolivian president’s plane – live

    LivePlane takes off after more than 12 hours in Vienna
    • Jet was diverted amid fears Snowden on board
    • France, Spain, Italy and Portugal accused of denying plane permission to use airspace
    • Snowden not on board say Austrian and Bolivian officials
    Bolivia accuses United States of ‘hostile act’
    Summary of the day’s events

  4. Bolivian president’s plane grounded in Vienna – video

    The Bolivian president, Evo Morales, talks to the media in Vienna airport after his plane was diverted on a flight from Moscow and forced to land in Austria. Bolivia accused several European countries of denying access to their airspace on suspicion that the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board the plane. Both Austrian and Bolivian authorities denied that was the case, and South American countries bitterly accused the US of putting pressure on Europe to obstruct any possible assistance to Snowden.

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    • Bolivian president’s plane grounded in Vienna

      03 Jul 2013
      • Bolivian president leaves Vienna amid Snowden row

        Evo Morales talks to the media in Vienna airport.

        Live South American countries furious after Evo Morales’s jet diverted over fears NSA whistleblower on board



        With uncanny timing, given events over the past 24 hours, Reporters Without Borders general secretary Christophe Deloire, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have co-signed an op-Ed in Le Monde calling on EU states to protect Edward Snowden. It says:

        On October 12, 2012, the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize for contributing to the “advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” The EU should show itself worthy of this honor and show its will to defend freedom of information, regardless of fears of political pressure from its so-called closest ally, the United States …

        This young man [Snowden] will remain abandoned in the transit zone of the Moscow airport only if the European countries abandon their principles, as well as a major part of the raison d’être of the EU. Expressions of diplomatic outrage will be empty gestures if the person responsible for the revelations is left isolated and abandoned.

        51m ago

        Individual European Union member states have the right to refuse access to their airspace but it was unclear why France and Portugal cancelled air permits for a plane carrying the Bolivian president Evo Morales, an EU Commission spokeswoman said. She told Reuters:

        At the moment it is not entirely clear what happened this morning, why the French and Portuguese decided to divert the flight.

        But she added that it was a sovereign responsibility of EU member states to decide whether to refuse access to an aircraft and the EU had no powers in the area.

        1h 26m ago

        Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN Sacha Lorenti also said that Austria’s decision to search the plane was an act of aggression and a violation of international law, according to Reuters. Earlier, Morales referred to his Austrian counterpart Heinz Fischer as his “brother”.

        Austria’s deputy chancellor Michael Spindelegger claimed that Morales “agreed to a voluntary inspection”.

        Bolivia's President Evo Morales, left, talks to reporters as he sits next to Austrian President Heinz Fischer at Vienna's Schwechat airport
        Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, left, talks to reporters as he sits next to Austrian President Heinz Fischer at Vienna’s Schwechat airport, Wednesday, 3 July, 2013. Photograph: Hans Punz/AP

        1h 44m ago

        So, after a stopover of more than 12 hours at Vienna airport, Morales is on his way. But the diplomatic row is set to run.

        Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York said the refusal to let his president’s plane cross over European airspace was an act of aggression that should have consequences, AP reports.

        Sacha Llorenti told reporters in Geneva on Wednesday that France, Portugal, Spain and Italy “violated international law” when they blocked President Evo Morales’s plane that was returning from a trip to Moscow, based on suspicions NSA leaker Edward Snowden might be aboard.

        “We interpret this as an aggression,” and will ask the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, to intervene, he said on Wednesday.

        Llorenti says “the orders came from the United States” but other nations violated the immunity of the president and his plane, putting his life at risk.

        French and Spanish officials have reportedly denied that they refused access to their airspace. Bolivia said Spain agreed to allow the plane to refuel in the Canary Islands but only if Bolivian authorities agreed to allow it to be inspected.

        Updated 1h 22m ago

        2h 16m ago

        A spokesman at Vienna airport has confirmed that Morales’s plane has left. He said it departed at around 11.30am (10.30am BST).

        You can follow the flight of the plane in real time on Flight Radar 24. (Thanks to @WalterWX for the link)

        Updated 1h 54m ago

        2h 33m ago

        Morales’s plane leaves

        The Bolivian president’s plane has left (with Morales on board), the Austrian reporter Tanja Malle tweets.

        #Morales plane left #Vienna right now. Good luck everyone.

        — tanja malle (@scharlatanja) July 3, 2013

        Updated 1h 54m ago

        2h 38m ago

        Morales reportedly boarding

        The photojournalist Matthias Cremer, who is at Vienna airport, tweets that the Bolivian president is boarding the plane. 

        Given the constant to-ing and fro-ing of the last few hours, it’s too soon to say Morales is definitely on his way …

        Updated 1h 53m ago

        2h 58m ago

        This is very strange. AP is reporting that both French and Spanish officials have denied refusing to let Morales’s plane cross their respective airspace.

        French officials denied on Wednesday that France refused to let the Bolivian president’s plane cross over its airspace amid suspicions that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was aboard. Spain, too, said the plane was free to cross its territory …

        Bolivian officials said that France, Portugal, Spain and Italy blocked the plane from flying over their territories, and angrily demanded explanation …

        Two officials with the French foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Morales’s plane had authorisation to fly over France. They would not comment on why Bolivian officials said otherwise. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to be publicly named according to ministry policy.

        An official with Spain’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that the country on Tuesday authorised Morales’s plane to fly within its airspace and to make a refuelling stop. The official said Bolivia asked again this morning for permission and got it. She spoke on condition of anonymity because of department rules.

        Updated 1h 52m ago

        3h 17m ago

        The Spanish government has not just annoyed Morales and Bolivia with its refusal to allow his plane through its airspace. The Austrian foreign minister, Michael Spindelegger, is also annoyed. He reportedly said:

        We don´t understand why Spain is acting like that.

        He also maintained that Austrian officials had been on the plane and Snowden was not there. Journalists at the airport had earlier suggested that Austrian authorities could not conclusively attest to Snowden not being on board as the jet’s crew were saying no one had been allowed on to the plane.

        Updated 1h 52m ago

        3h 45m ago

        Morales said he refused a request by the Spanish authorities to inspect his plane in Vienna and has not been granted permission to use Spanish airspace, according to Reuters.

        Updated 3h 33m ago

        3h 51m ago

        It appears that Morales’s path may not have been cleared after all. The Austrian reporter Tanja Malle tweets that at another press conference, this time with Morales and ambassadors from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (Alba), it was said that Spain was still not opening its airspace to his flight.

        Updated 3h 32m ago

        4h 10m ago

        Morales ready to leave Austria

        The Austrian president, Heinz Fischer, said at a press conference at Vienna airport:

        The flight route is normal, as far as I am informed. Spain’s airspace is also open for him. [Morales] will resume his trip shortly.

        Updated 3h 31m ago

        4h 22m ago

        Audio has been posted purporting to be of the conversation between a pilot aboard Morales’s flight and the control room at Vienna airport. 

        Although the Guardian cannot 100% verify the audio, it comes from a source who has a record of monitoring aviation communications. (In this 2011 article, Huub, also known online as “BlackBox” and @FMCNL, is described as a former member of the Dutch military who has been monitoring radio frequency scanners, amplifiers, and antennas for more than 25 years.)

        Part of the conversation goes:

        “Do you need any assistance?”

        “Not at this moment. We need to land because we cannot get a correct indication of the fuel indication … we need to land.”

        This problem might indicate why the Bolivian foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, accused France and Portugal of putting the president’s life at risk by cancelling authorisation for the plane. But it is hard to believe that those countries would have refused permission to pass through its airspace if a problem was reported.

        A press officer at Vienna airport said she could not confirm whether or not the audio recording was genuine.

        Updated 2h 50m ago

        4h 50m ago

        Austria allowed Morales’s plane to land because it had no fear that Snowden might be on board, an Austrian foreign ministry spokesman told ORF radio. He said:

        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. Austria did not do that, which means there is no fear here.

        Austrian officials have said that Snowden is not on board. But a journalist on the ground said it was impossible for them to ascertain this as, according to the plane crew, they were not allowed to enter the jet (as it is a presidential plane they can restrict access).

        Updated 3h 29m ago

        5h 3m ago

        Embedded at the top of this page or by clicking this link you can watch video of Morales speaking to the media at Vienna airport. He looks stunned and simply says:

        We’re waiting, I’m sure there are discussions going on.

        5h 22m ago

        Helen Davidson and I in Sydney are handing over the blog to our colleague Haroon Siddique in London.

        Click here for a summary of events so far.

        5h 29m ago

        Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, has also railed against what he called an “affront to our America”, and called on his fellow South American presidents to “take action”.

        Posting on Twitter, Correa wrote: “Decisive hours for UNASUR! Either we graduated from the colonies, or we claim our independence, sovereignty and dignity. We are all Bolivia!”

        Correa said he was trying to convene a UNASUR meeting with other South American leaders.

        Updated 1h 51m ago

        5h 42m ago

        Another image has been tweeted by the Der Standard journalist Olivera Stajić. This one shows crew members sleeping at the airport, apparently whilst news reports of Edward Snowden are transmitted in the background.

        6h 6m ago

        We have translated more tweets from Argentinian president, Cristina Kirchner. She says she is in regular contact with Morales and has expressed outrage at the ongoing diplomatic incident.

        The president said she had spoken to Morales on the phone, and offered legal assistance.

        According to the Guardian’s translations, Kirchner said “if Austria does not let them out or wants to check the plane, he can present to the International Court of Justice to ask for a preliminary injunction.”

        “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” she continued, adding that they can send a judge to Austria.

        “Mother of God! What a world!” she exclaimed.

        Kirchner said she had spoken to Uruguay president José Mujica who was “indignant” at the “humiliating situation”, and she agreed.

        Kirchner said she will also speak again with president Rafael Correa of Ecuador.

        6h 23m ago

        Photographs of president Morales and defence minister Ruben Saavedra Soto at the Vienna international airport have arrived:

        Bolivian President Evo Morales (L) and the Bolivian Defence Minister Ruben Saavedra Soto at the airport in Vienna, Austria
        Bolivian President Evo Morales (L) and the Bolivian Defence Minister Ruben Saavedra Soto at the airport in Vienna, Austria Photograph: HELMUT FOHRINGER/EPA
        Bolivian defence minister Ruben Saavedra Soto (L) and Bolivian President Evo Morales sit in a waiting lounge in Vienna airport
        Bolivian defence minister Ruben Saavedra Soto and Bolivian President Evo Morales sit in a waiting lounge in Vienna airport Photograph: HELMUT FOHRINGER/EPA
        Bolivian defence minister Ruben Saavedra Soto speaks to journalists as Bolivian President Evo Morales looks on in a waiting lounge in Vienna airport, Austria
        Bolivian defence minister Ruben Saavedra Soto speaks to journalists as Bolivian President Evo Morales looks on in a waiting lounge in Vienna airport, Austria
        The Bolivian presidential airplane is parked at the Vienna International Airport in Schwechat
        The Bolivian presidential airplane is parked at the Vienna International Airport in Schwechat

        6h 47m ago


        Here is a summary of events so far:

        • A major diplomatic incident has occured after a jet carrying the president of Bolivia was rerouted to Austria. Various European countries prevented the plane from overflying their airspace, amidst suspicions NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was onboard.
        • Austrian foreign ministry officials subsequently said Snowden was not onboard. Morales, along with the Bolivian defence minister, remain at Vienna international airport.
        • The defence minister has said that France, Portugal, Italy and Spain had prevented the jet from entering their airspace. The airspace ban is still being enforced by Spanish authorities. He blamed the decisions on pressure from the US government.
        • A number of South American states have voiced outrage at the incident, and, according to Argentinian president Cristina Kirchner, the Peruvian president Ollanta Humala has called a meeting of the Union of South American Nations to discuss the ongoing events.
        • The Bolivian vice president, Alvaro Garcia, said Morales had been “kidnapped by imperialiam”.

        Updated 6h 43m ago

        7h 23m ago

        Argentinian president Cristina Kirchner has tweeted that she has been advised that Peruvian president Ollanta Humala will call a meeting of the Union of South American Nations to discuss ongoing events.

        Kirchner said “tomorrow is going to be a long and difficult day. Be calm. They will not be able to.”

        (This is the Guardian’s translation of her tweet in Spanish)

        Updated 7h 20m ago

        7h 30m ago

        Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia has delivered a midnight press conference on the incident, AP reports.

        He described Morales as being “kidnapped by imperialism” in Europe and said that the Spanish authorities were not allowing Morales’ plane to enter their airspace.

        The ambassador for Spain in Austria has just informed us that there is no authorization to fly over Spanish territory and that at 9 a.m. Wednesday they would be in contact with us again

        Updated 7h 29m ago

        7h 48m ago

        Tanja Malle the Austrian broadcast journalist present at Vienna international airport says Morales has spoken to journalists there. She has tweeted a number of his comments, which we have embedded below.

        • Malle says Morales has been in contact with Cristina Kirchner, the president of Argentina, and others in South America to organise a solution to the episode.
        • Malle says Morales has permission from Italy, France and Portugal to overfly their airspace, but is still waiting on Spain.

        Here are her tweets:

        8h 8m ago

        Cuba’s Foreign Ministry have released a statement condemning the incident, CNN reports.

        CNN quote an extract from the statement:

        This constitutes an unacceptable, unfounded and arbitrary act which offends all of Latin America and the Caribbean.

        The report also quotes Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino who has spoken to reporters. He said:

        We consider this a huge offense, and I will call for a UNASUR special summit with foreign secretaries to discuss this issue.

        Updated 8h 7m ago

        8h 26m ago

        Bolivian defence minister Ruben Saavedra has said that Portugal and France have reconsidered the airspace ban and will now allow Morales’ plane to overfly both countries, Reuters reports.

        However, Saavedra says that Italy and Spain have refused to allow the plane to enter their air space.

        It is unclear if these comments were made during Saavedra’s initial press conference or whether they were delivered subsequently.

        He said:

        Two countries have changed their positions, first France and now Portugal. We will patiently seek to resolve the negative position taken by Italy and Spain, according to international norms.

        Updated 8h 22m ago

        8h 46m ago

        A journalist with Der Standard, a national daily newspaper in Austria, has tweeted another photograph of Morales at the airport.

        8h 59m ago

        My colleague Helen Davidson has spoken to Tanja Malle, an Austrian broadcast journalist who is at Vienna international airport and who tweeted photos of president Morales there earlier.

        She says that Morales, the defence minister and the rest of the plane’s crew have gone into the VIP area of the airport.

        Here are Tanja’s updates:

        Most of the crew are now inside a [separate] room with Morales…

        The crew said the are looking forward to leaving. They were told… hours ago that it would only take minutes.

        Morales didn’t say anything. He was sitting on the couch next to the defence secretary, who was very angry. The rest of the Bolivians are just tired. They do not seem to be in a bad mood or anything.

        Here is the full audio:

        Updated 8h 37m ago

        9h 21m ago

        AP has updated its report to say that Morales remains at Vienna international airport. “Morales will remain at the airport until his plane has been cleared for take-off,” the report says.

        Updated 8h 55m ago

        9h 39m ago

        I’ve just got off the phone with the WikiLeaks party campaign manager Greg Barns who has shared his thoughts on today’s extraordinary events.

        Here is the audio:

        Updated 9h 36m ago

        9h 48m ago

        Two photographs apparently showing the Bolivian president at Vienna international airport have been posted on Twitter. They claim to show Morales listening in to a press conference delivered by the Bolivian defence secretary.

        They were taken by Tanja Malle, an Austrian radio journalist. My colleague Helen Davidson will be speaking to Tanja shortly. Here are the pictures in the meantime.

        9h 53m ago

        Our Washington bureau chief, Dan Roberts, has been assessing the potential fallout from the diplomatic row over the diversion of Morales’s flight to Vienna. He writes:

        Though the White House declined to confirm whether it ordered Western European allies to block the diplomatic flight containing Bolivia’s president, the affair casts further doubt on promises made by Barack Obama that the US would “not scramble jets” to retrieve the whistleblower who has brought so much embarrassment upon his administration.

        When the issue first threatened to overshadow delicate relations with major powers such as China and Russia, the US president went out of his way to stress that he would not expend political capital on “wheeling and dealing” just to bring a 29-year-old hacker to justice. Whether he was setting expectations low for the likelihood of Snowden’s capture, or genuinely trying to put the issue in proportion remains unclear, but events since have shown the White House is willing to act far tougher with smaller nations who might contemplate rebellion.

        First, Washington successfully leant on Ecuador to reverse it’s support for Snowden’s asylum claim. Congressional leaders threatened to revoke valuable trade agreements and then vice president Joe Biden followed up with a more diplomatic phone call that led to a marked change in tone from Ecuador’s president.

        On Tuesday afternoon, the State Department rejected allegations by Snowden that it was bullying nations into withdrawing support. Yet the apparent decision by French, Portuguese and possibly Italian authorities to revoke diplomatic overfly rights simply on the suspicion he might be on board the Bolivian flight suggests that Washington’s diplomatic arm-twisting does not need to be overt to be effective.

        Of course, all the drama also has the added benefit of distracting attention from the impact of Snowden’s revelations. Obama’s top intelligence official, James Clapper, has just admitted lying to Congress over whether the US spies on its own people, but you wouldn’t know it from watching US TV right now.

        10h 12m ago

        Bolivian Minister of Foreing Affairs, David Choquehuanca, speaks during a press conference in La Paz, Bolivia.
        Bolivian Minister of Foreing Affairs, David Choquehuanca, speaks during a press conference in La Paz, Bolivia, Photograph: MARTIN ALIPAZ/EPA

        10h 39m ago

        AP is reporting that Morales is now spending the night at a Vienna hotel. It also reports Austrian foreign ministry officials have confirmed that Snowden is not on the plane.

        11h 4m ago

        AP reports that Venezuela’s foreign minister Elias Jaua has condemned the decision by France and Portugal to block the plane from its airspace. He claimed that changing a flight’s route without checking on how much fuel was left in the plane, put Morales’ life at risk.

        He added:

        All the countries that have denied permission for the flight of our brother president, Evo Morales, must be held responsible for his life and his dignity as president.

        11h 20m ago

        Snowden is not on the plane, AFP reports

        AFP are reporting that Austrian foreign ministry officials have confirmed Edward Snowden is not on the plane.

        The report continues:

        “President Morales will leave early Wednesday morning for La Paz,” the Bolivian capital, ministry spokesman Alexander Schallenberg told AFP. Austria did not know why Morales’s plane had landed there, he added.

        11h 34m ago

        My colleague Helen Davidson has just been on the phone with general aviation staff at Vienna international airport.

        Staff confirmed that the plane carrying Morales has landed there, and has not left. They said they were unable to say how many passengers were on board as they were not given a passenger list.

        11h 46m ago

        My colleague in Washington Dan Roberts has just filed this report, which summarises the events so far.

        He has also just spoken to White House officials, asking for their response to claims made by the Bolivian defence minister that Portugal’s decision to refuse Morales’ plane access to their airspace was influenced by the US.

        White House officials say that these are questions for the Austrian and Portugese authorities to answer.

        Updated 11h 43m ago

        11h 56m ago

        Putin and Morales met on Tuesday.
        The Bolivian president, Evo Morales, right, met the Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier on Tuesday. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

        11h 58m ago


        President Morales was returning to Bolivia from Russia where he had met with president Vladimir Putin at a summit of major gas exporters in the Kremlin.

        Speaking to RT Actualidad, the Spanish-language service of the Russian broadcaster Russia Today, Morales said Bolivia had not received an asylum request from Edward Snowden, but hinted any request would be looked at favourably.

        He said:

        If there were a request, of course we would be willing to debate and consider the idea.

        I know that the empires have an espionage network and are against the so-called developing countries. And in particular, against those which are rich in natural resources.

        Updated 11h 57m ago

        12h 8m ago

        Associated Press has published extracts from a statement issued by the Bolivian defence minister, Ruben Saavedra, who was also on the redirected plane.

        It says the plane was allowed to land in Spain for refueling before flying on to Austria.

        It describes the rerouting as a “hostile act” by the US goverment:

        This is a hostile act by the United States State Department which has used various European governments

        Updated 12h 5m ago

        12h 18m ago

        Although Associated Press is reporting Morales’ plane has landed, the Guardian is still trying to confirm this.

        MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes claimed to have found the plane on a flight radar website.

        Updated 12h 4m ago

        12h 27m ago

        CNN has interviewed the Bolivian defence minister, Ruben Saavedra, who has expressed outrage at the decision to reroute the president’s plane. He said the US government was behind the rumours that Snowden was on board.

        “This is a lie, a falsehood,” he said. “It was generated by the US government.”

        He added:

        It is an outrage. It is an abuse. It is a violation of the conventions and agreements of international air transportation

        Updated 12h 4m ago

        12h 37m ago

        Associated Press broke the news in the last hour. Here is its original tweet:

        Updated 12h 4m ago

        12h 43m ago

        The plane carrying the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, from Russia has been rerouted to Austria, following suspicions that the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board, leading to a major diplomatic incident.

        The Bolivian foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, said French and Portuguese authorities refused to allow the plane to fly through their airspace. He added that rumours Snowden was on board were unfounded.

        “We don’t know who invented this lie. We want to denounce to the international community this injustice with the plane of President Evo Morales,” Choquehuanca told Associate


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