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Bolivia threatens to close US embassy over Snowden row

Bolivia's leader Evo Morales has accused the United States of breaking international law. South American leaders joined him in condemning the diversion of Morales' jet on the suspicion that Edward Snowden was on board.

The presidents of Argentina, Ecuador, Suriname, Venezuela and Uruguay called the treatment of Morales by European leaders "an offense" to all South American nations, according to a joint statement released early Friday. The leaders had convened in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba overnight following Morales' return from Europe.

Earlier in the week, European officials had rerouted the Bolivian president's return flight from Moscow, forcing him to land in Vienna where he remained grounded for over 13 hours. They reportedly believed that NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden had been on board the airplane. Bolivian President Morales alleged that France, Italy, Portugal and Spain all revoked flight clearance for his plane based on the "false rumor."

President Morales express outrage at the move, threatening to retaliate against the United States for breaking international law.

"United we will defeat American imperialism. We met with the leaders of my party and they asked us for several measures," he said.

"We don't need a US embassy in Bolivia," Morales added. "My hand would not shake to close the US embassy. We have dignity, sovereignty. Without the United States, we are better politically, democratically."

Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Peru also condemned the diversion of Morales' plane, but did not attend the meeting.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is currently believed to be residing in the Moscow airport, where he awaits approval for asylum from a number of Western nations. The US wants Snowden on charges of espionage for leaking details of a wide-reaching surveillance program, known as Prism.

South America outraged

Comments from the leaders in attendance also emerged separately from the group's official statement, expressing anger over the lingering influence of Europe and over the US' recurrent meddling in their politics.

"The leaders and authorities in Europe have to take a lesson in history and understand that we're not 500 years behind. This Latin America of the 21st century is independent, dignified and sovereign," said Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.

"Imagine if this happened to a European head of state, if this had happened to the president of the United States. It probably would have been a casus belli, a case for war," Correa said. "They think they can attack, crush, destroy international law."

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused the CIA of strong-arming EU officials into complying with its wishes.

"A minister of one of those European governments told me personally that it was the CIA who gave the order to [ground the plane]," Maduro said late Thursday. "The CIA is more powerful that governments."

France has already issued an apology, which Bolivian President Morales immediately rejected. However, the Argentine president renewed calls for apologizes from the other European nations to ease tensions.

The diplomatic row also sparked public ire in the Bolivia ahead of the meeting. In La Paz, small demonstrations too place outside the US and French embassies. In the city of Santa Cruz, government sympathies spray painted graffiti on the US embassy.

kms/rg (AP, AFP)