LAPAZ: Bolivian President Evo Morales denounced European countries as lackeys of America, arriving home on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) on a journey interrupted after suspicions United States (US) intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was traveling with him.
His plane touched down near La Paz almost 17 hours after leaving Vienna. It had had to land in the Austrian capital after several European nations denied it overfly rights on the flight back from Moscow.
“Some countries of Europe have to free themselves from the US empire,” Morales told a cheering crowd at the airport.
“They are not going to frighten us, because we are a people with dignity and sovereignty,” he added, as his supporters carried flowers, threw confetti and waved national flags.
Bolivia has accused the United States of pressuring European countries to keep him from traveling home over unfounded suspicions that Snowden was traveling with him.
The suspicions about Snowden were not confirmed by a search of the jet in Austria, an incident which fueled outrage among Latin American leaders and sparked protests in the Bolivian capital La Paz.
Bolivian officials accused France, Portugal, Italy and Spain of denying entry to Morales’s jet on Tuesday because of “unfounded rumors” Snowden was on board.
Morales portrayed his unpresidential plight as “like a near 13-hour kidnapping” and his government announced it had lodged a complaint with the United Nations (UN).
In La Paz, about 100 protesters threw stones and burned the French flag at Paris’s embassy, with protesters chanting “Fascist France, get out of Bolivia!”
The presidential palace said protest rallies were also planned outside the embassies of the United States, Portugal and Italy.
The US embassy in La Paz, apparently fearing protests on Thursday, called off planned US Independence Day celebrations.
The controversy rippled across the region, with both left and right-leaning governments expressing outrage over the incident.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua called the incident “an attack against President Morales’s life,” echoing earlier claims by Bolivia itself.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff expressed “indignation” over the treatment of Morales, calling it a “provocation” that concerned “all of Latin America.”
Chile’s right-leaning government said it “rejects and regrets” the treatment of the Bolivian leader.
Leftist Latin America leaders are preparing to meet in Bolivia on Thursday following the controversial diversion of his jet.
Among those expected to attend are Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, and Uruguay’s Jose Mujica, Garcia said.
Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman said the UN leader “understands the concerns raised by the Bolivian government regarding the actions that a number of states may have taken involving an aircraft carrying” Morales.
“He is relieved that this unfortunate incident did not lead to consequences for the safety of President Morales and his entourage,” said UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey.
“He urges the states concerned to discuss the matter with full respect for the legitimate interests involved.”
Snowden, 30, has been stranded in the Russian capital since June 23, seeking to avoid extradition over US espionage charges after leaking details of vast secret surveillance programs to the media.
Snowden’s revelations about alleged US spying on European allies has sparked a diplomatic row, with French President Francois Hollande having threatened to block negotiations on a major free trade agreement until Paris is sure spying on EU institutions has ceased.