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Diplomatic Uproar After Bolivian Emergency Landing in Vienna

Published: July 4, 2013; 11:02 · (Vindobona)

After the allegedly forced stop of in Austria, Bolivian President Evo Morales has returned to his home country. International criticism arises, also in regard to Austria’s actions.

Diplomatic Uproar After Bolivian Emergency Landing in Vienna / Picture: © Wikipedia / Joel Alvarez (Joels86)

On his flight from Russia to Bolivia, President Morales had to stop for around thirteen hours in Vienna as some European countries had refused to let him use their airspace as rumors appeared Edward Snowden could be on board. The presidential plane was about to enter French territory when the pilots “told us the entrance to France’s territory was withdrawn, [and we were] forced to turn back, [at] first we planned to return to Russia and then we decided to do an emergency landing in Vienna,” Morales said. According to reports by Bolivia, France as well as Portugal, Spain and Italy had declined the right of overflight. Eleven persons – five members of the crew and six passengers – came to Vienna by the presidential plane. Snowden was not among them.

Different statements by the Austrian authorities are causing confusion. According to the Interior Ministry there was no search due to a lack of legal space. Alexander Schallenberg, spokesman of Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, said on Wednesday that there had been a consensus with Bolivia for a “voluntary inspection”. “Otherwise we would have never done it.” The Austrian diplomats in Geneva were asked to inform their Bolivian colleagues. According to experts, an inspection without Bolivia’s consent would not have been possible as presidential planes were enjoying State immunity.

However, Austria still might have to face problems nonetheless as UN diplomat of Bolivia Sacha Llorenti Soliz accused the country of having “kidnapped” President Morales. Bolivia will file a complaint with the United Nations, Soliz announced. Austria had committed an “act of aggression” and violated human rights.

The reason for the sudden refusal was because the South American countries are under the general suspicision to grant the whistleblower asylum and rumors appeared that Morales had smuggled Snowden on board in Moscow. Foreign Minister of Bolivia David Choquehuanca expressed his deep outrage and announced that it was a huge lie.

“It’s not an offence against the president, it is an offence against the country, against the whole of the Latin American region,” Morales said before his take-off from Vienna.

In the meantime, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange urged the EU, as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, to grant asylum to Snowden. "European Union states, first and foremost France and Germany, should reserve him their warmest welcome, under any status whatsoever," Assange said in an opinion piece, co-written with the head of media-rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Christophe Deloire, in French newspaper Le Monde. "Europe must rise to the occasion and show its willingness to defend freedom of information, whatever its fears of political pressure from its 'best friend' the United States."

Morales’ involuntary stop in Vienna could also be a trick by the Russian secret service, former head of the Austrian Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution and Fight against Terrorism (BVT) Gert-Rene Polli said in an interview with Ö1. The fact that whistleblower Snowden was not aboard the plane of the Bolivian president indicates “a Russian operative measure of the local intelligence service, particularly to embarrass and deceive the Americans,” according to Polli. Furthermore, he said it was one of the “biggest disgraces of American foreign policy I have ever seen.”

According to safety circles, the government of US President Barack Obama has informed countries that it would have a significant negative impact on the relations to his country if Snowden was granted the permisson to enter.