France Apologises For Leaving Bolivian President Hanging After Denying Him Air Permit

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia
Evo Morales, President of Bolivia

France has expressed “regret” for the country’s delay in granting Bolivian President Evo Morales permission to use French airspace Tuesday, making Morales’ plane land in Vienna after a similar delay from Portugal.

Besides France and Portugal, Italy and Spain also denied Morales’ plane the right to fly through their airspace on Tuesday because of suspicions US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden was abroad.

Morales’ plane, on its way home from Moscow, had been forced to land in the Austrian capital, in an incident that sparked a diplomatic row and was likened by Morales to a “13-hour kidnapping”.

French President Francois Hollande told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that there was “conflicting information” about the plane passengers. He said permission was granted as soon as he knew it was Morales’ plane.

France Foreign Ministry on Wednesday also issued a statement, saying that it was sorry that President Evo Morales’ jet was refused entry into French airspace, forcing it to make an unscheduled stopover in Vienna.

“The foreign minister called his Bolivian counterpart to tell him about France’s regrets after the incident caused by the late confirmation of permission for President Morales’ plane to fly over (French) territory,” said ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot.

Bolivia has accused Washington of pressuring European countries to keep him from traveling home over the “groundless rumours”.

Morales urged European countries to “free themselves from the US empire” as he arrived home late on Wednesday .

“They are not going to frighten us, because we are a people with dignity and sovereignty,” he said.

Late on Wednesday, a group of around 100 protesters threw rocks and firecrackers at the French embassy in the Bolivian capital, smashing windows. They also burned French flags following the European powerhouse’s disregard for their number one citizen.

Snowden is seeking to avoid US espionage charges after leaking embarrassing details of a vast US phone and internet surveillance programme that has alarmed Washington’s foreign allies.

The 30-year-old is currently holed up at a Moscow airport looking for a country that will give him safe haven.

Bolivia is one of 21 countries Snowden has asked for asylum. Morales said earlier this week that his country would be willing to study the request.

Austrian officials confirmed Snowden was not traveling with Morales after being allowed to search the aircraft.