Latin America & Caribbean

Mercosur 'to recall' envoys over Bolivia Snowden plane row

(L-R) Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, Jose Mujica of Uruguay, Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela pose for the official picture of the Mercosur Summit
Image caption The leaders of Mercosur stood by Bolivia over the diversion of President Evo Morales' (L) plane

Four South American countries say they will recall some of their ambassadors after the Bolivian president's plane was banned from European airspace.

Evo Morales' plane, returning from Russia, was rerouted to Austria, amid rumours that American fugitive Edward Snowden was on board.

Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Uruguay say the incident violated international law.

Envoys will be recalled from France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, they say.

Mr Snowden, a former CIA contractor, is wanted by Washington on charges of leaking secrets about US surveillance schemes.

'Hostile act'

Speaking at a summit in Montevideo, the Uruguayan foreign minister, Luis Almagro, said the actions of the European governments were "groundless, discriminatory and arbitrary".

He went on: "The gravity of the situation - which is a typical neo-colonial practice - is an unusual, unfriendly and hostile act which violates human rights and affects the freedom of transit, displacement and immunity that is enjoyed by every head of state."

The European countries have called the incident a "misunderstanding". France has apologised, blaming "conflicting information" while Spain said it had been told Mr Snowden had been on the plane.

On Friday, Mr Snowden said he sought asylum in Russia as he was unable to travel to Latin America.

He spoke at a Moscow airport, in his first appearance in three weeks, after meeting human rights groups and lawyers.

He has been in the transit area at Sheremetyevo airport since arriving from Hong Kong on 23 June.

The American has sent requests for political asylum to at least 21 countries, most of which have turned him down.

However, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have indicated they could take him in.

South American anger

The decision by South American nations to recall four of their Europe envoys was taken in the framework of the presidential summit of the regional trade bloc, Mercosur, which comprises Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Uruguay.

Some European countries are likely to close their airspace again to any plane suspected of carrying the fugitive.

In a statement, Mercosur said: "We repudiate any action aimed at undermining the authority of countries to grant and fully implement the right of asylum."

It called for "solidarity with the governments of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which have offered to grant asylum to Mr Edward Snowden".

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Mercosur would also demand "explanations and public apologies" from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal over the plane forced landing.

Bolivia, which is an associate member of Mercosur, summoned the ambassadors of the four European countries last week over the diversion of the plane, which it called an act of aggression.

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