MOSCOW — Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane, ferrying him home from Moscow, was redirected to Vienna late Tuesday after France and Portugal refused to allow it to enter their airspace because of the belief that the American fugitive Edward Snowden was aboard, said Bolivian and Venezuelan authorities.
Snowden, who revealed secret U.S. surveillance programs and fled to Moscow to stay beyond American reach, was not aboard the plane, an irate Bolivian foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, told reporters in La Paz after the Bolivian delegation landed in Vienna. "We don't know who invented this lie," he said.
Choquehuanca said the plane was an hour from French airspace when it was told it could not enter. "Portugal has to explain to us," he said. "France has to explain to us why they canceled" flight authorization.
The allegation that the plane had been redirected for reasons related to Snowden could not be verified. The White House, the CIA and State Department all declined to comment.
But the latest twist underscored how Snowden has settled still deeper into isolation as one country after another has rejected his appeals for asylum since his disclosure of a trove of highly secret documents.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua called the incident over Austria "an attempt on Evo Morales' life." He said it was a sign of how far "the empire" — a reference to the United States — and it's "lackeys" would go "to hunt down a young man who has only said the truth."
For the United States, Bolivia clearly emerged as a possible sanctuary for Snowden, who was stuck in Russia after the United States revoked his passport before his arrival here on a flight from Hong Kong on June 23.
In an interview earlier Tuesday in Moscow on the state-financed RT news channel, Morales said he would consider asylum for Snowden.
Snowden has made 21 asylum requests, according to WikiLeaks, the antisecrecy organization that has been advising him. On Monday, Russia's President Vladimir Putin said he could stay here if he stopped leaking information harmful to the United States, an odd offer that Snowden refused, a presidential spokesman said Tuesday morning.