President Evo Morales has returned to Bolivia after his plane was rerouted in Europe on suspicions whistle-blower Edward Snowden was aboard. He called the affair an "open provocation" to South America.
Morales arrived in Bolivia around midnight Wednesday (0400 GMT Thursday) after his 14-hour unscheduled stop in Vienna. He was greeted by his Cabinet and around 100 of his supporters at the airport near the capital La Paz.
The Bolivian president had initially planned to fly through Western Europe on his way home from a summit in Moscow, but his government said he was forced to land in Austria after France, Spain and Portugal all refused to let the presidential plane through their airspace. Bolivia said European countries suspected that the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Snowden was on board and have accused the United States of being behind the incident.
"It is an open provocation to the continent, not only the president; they use the agent of North American imperialism to scare us and intimidate us," Morales told the crowd at the airport. "They are not going to frighten us, because we are a people with dignity and sovereignty."
The US declined to comment on whether it was involved in the affair, saying only that "US officials have been in touch with a broad range of countries over the course of the last 10 days," in regards to Snowden.
Snowden, who is believed to be in the transit area of a Moscow airport, has applied for asylum in 20 countries, including Bolivia. Morales said his country would be willing to study Snowden's case, but that Bolivia has received no formal request.
Anger in Latin America
The alleged interference from Washington sparked strong condemnation from Latin American leaders.
"This is a humiliation for a sister nation and for the South American continent," said Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez, who called the plane's rerouting a "vestige of the colonialism that we thought we had completely overcome."
She said Morales' "total and indisputable" immunity was violated when he was "illegally detained in old Europe."
Peru, Brazil, Uruguay, Ecuador and Chile all condemned Europe's handling of the affair, with Brazil expressing "indignation and condemnation of the restrictions imposed on President Evo Morales by some European countries."
Mexico also criticized Morales' treatment and urged countries to follow "good diplomatic practices."
Cuba called Morales' treatment "unacceptable, baseless and arbitrary, and offensive to all of Latin America and the Caribbean."
The Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said the presidents of Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Surinam and possibly Uruguay will attend a UNASUR meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia on Thursday to discuss the matter. Bolivia also said it would summon the French and Italian ambassadors and the Portuguese consul to demand explanations.
The Bolivian government said it had filed a formal complaint with the United Nations and was examining other legal options to prove its rights had been violated under international law.
dr/hc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)