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Bolivia demands answers from Europe in plane spat over Snowden

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is seen in this still image taken from video during an intervie
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is seen in this still image taken from video during an intervie

By Daniel Ramos

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivia demanded on Monday that France, Portugal, Spain and Italy reveal who told them that former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden was on board President Evo Morales' flight from Moscow last week.

Bolivia said it was an act of "state terrorism" by the United States and its European allies that the four countries banned Morales' plane from their airspace on suspicions it was carrying the U.S. fugitive to Bolivia in defiance of Washington.

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca summoned and met with the ambassadors from France, Spain, Italy and a representative of Portugal, which has no ambassador in the country, a source in the foreign ministry said. No details from the meetings were immediately available.

"We are simply asking the government of Spain and the other governments, of course, to clarify and explain where that version of Mr. Snowden being on the presidential plane came from," Communications Minister Amanda Davila said. "Who spread that fallacy, that lie?"

"This is the first case of state terrorism against a president, against a nation, against a people," she added.

Bolivia and other outspoken leftist governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua are the only countries so far to have publicly offered asylum to Snowden.

Choquehuanca also met with the Russian ambassador in La Paz on Monday. The purpose of the meeting was not made public.

He is believed to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, where he landed on June 23 from Hong Kong.

Washington wants Snowden arrested on espionage charges for divulging details of extensive secret surveillance programs. President Barack Obama has said any countries that give Snowden shelter would face serious costs.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Saturday he had not yet had contact with Snowden and would wait until Monday to see if the former National Security Agency contractor took up the asylum offer.

The Bolivian government believes the United States knew that Snowden was not on Morales' plane and simply wanted to intimidate Morales because of his outspoken criticism of U.S. policies.

"We consider that the U.S. knew that Mr. Snowden was not on that plane because there is no way President Morales could leave the Moscow airport without the surveillance and checks that are always done for official flights," Davila said.

On Sunday, Choquehuanca said his Spanish counterpart, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, told him during the flight troubles last week that he had been informed that Snowden was on Morales' plane.

According to Choquehuanca, Garcia-Margallo asked the Bolivians for a written note vowing that the American was not a passenger before flight permits were restored.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos; Writing by Louise Egan; Editing by Hugh Bronstein and Philip Barbara)

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