Spain apologises over Snowden 'error'

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo at a press conference. He said, "If there is some misunderstanding, I have no problem apologising to the president". Picture: DANIEL MIHAILESCU

MADRID - Spain said Tuesday that it was willing to apologise to Bolivia for the incident last week that blocked President Evo Morales' passage through the airspace of several European countries, referring to it as a "misunderstanding."

"If there is some misunderstanding, I have no problem apologising to the president," Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said.

Bolivia has demanded apologies from Spain, Italy, France and Portugal for closing their airspace to Morales' plane due to suspicion that fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was on board.

In Washington, the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted a resolution condemning the delay to Morales' flight. The statement called on the same four European countries to "provide the necessary explanations and apologies."

OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza described the incident as "a serious offence to a democratic president of this region."

The US ambassador to OAS, Carmen Lomellin had argued that the resolution was "inappropriate", and that the issue was a bilateral matter between Bolivia and the four countries.

In New York, envoys from Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela met UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over the incident, Ban's office said.

"The secretary general reiterated that he understood the concerns which have been expressed about this unfortunate incident," the statement said. Ban said aircraft carrying heads of state enjoy diplomatic immunity and inviolability.

Morales' plane was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Austria while the president was flying home from a meeting in Moscow, where Snowden has been stuck at Sheremetyevo International Airport in diplomatic limbo since last month. The plane was searched, and Morales was able to fly on to Bolivia after a 14-hour delay.

Meanwhile, Venezuela confirmed that it would respond "positively" to Snowden's asylum request, confirming earlier suggestions it would be willing to take him in.

Snowden "will have to decide when to fly, if he ultimately wants to fly here," President Nicolas Maduro said Monday. However, a decision on the application would first have to be made in Venezuela, he said.

Venezuela's move brings to three the number of countries, all in South America, that have indicated they would grant asylum to Snowden. The 30-year-old gained worldwide attention in June when he fled to Hong Kong to reveal the existence of PRISM, a US-run global eavesdropping programme.

Bolivia and Nicaragua have also suggested they would offer refuge. The three countries are run by leftist governments critical of the United States.

Washington has warned against sheltering Snowden and has asked Venezuela to extradite the 30-year-old if he enters the country. Refusal would threaten a further deterioration in the strained relations between the two countries.

In offering to apologise, the Spanish minister insisted it had not closed its airspace to Morales and had authorised a stopover for refuelling in the Canary Islands.

Snowden, who has not been seen in public since he arrived in Moscow on June 23 from Hong Kong, has limited travel options because the US has revoked his passport.

The US has charged him with espionage and theft of government property.





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