A major diplomatic row erupted on Wednesday when a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced to land in Austria where it was searched after it was rumored to be carrying fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden. According to Reuters, “the Bolivian plane, which was taking Morales home from an energy conference in Moscow, was stranded at Vienna airport for several hours after Portugal and France refused to allow it to fly through their airspace.
The search found that Snowden was not onboard and the plane eventually left Vienna about noon on Wednesday.
The 30-year-old Snowden is believed to be still in the transit area of a Moscow airport, where he has been trying since June 23 to find a country that will offer him refuge from prosecution in the United States on espionage charges.
Bolivia, which is part of a Venezuelan-led leftist alliance that has challenged U.S. political and economic influence in Latin America, denounced the Austrian action as an act of aggression and violation of international law. "We have no doubt that it was an order from the White House," ambassador Llorenti said. "By no means should a diplomatic plane with the president be diverted from its route and forced to land in another country."
Bolivia will lodge a complaint at the United Nations. Austria said however that Morales had agreed to a voluntary inspection of the plane. Deputy Chancellor Michael Spindelegger confirmed Snowden had not been on the plane. "Our colleagues from the airport had a look and can give assurances that no one is on board who is not a Bolivian citizen," Spindelegger told reporters at Vienna airport.
Bolivia is among more than a dozen countries where Snowden has sought asylum and Morales has said he would consider granting the American refuge if requested. But his options have narrowed since he arrived in Moscow from Hong Kong with no valid travel documents after the United States revoked his passport. Five countries have rejected granting Snowden asylum, seven have said they would consider a request if made on their soil, and eight said they had either not made a decision or not received a request.”
This animation presents a timeline of events.