Latin America & Caribbean

Snowden case: France apologises in Bolivia plane row

Bolivian protester burning French flag in La Paz
Image caption Bolivian protesters threw stones at the French embassy in La Paz and burned the French and European flags

France has apologised to Bolivia for refusing to allow President Evo Morales' jet into its airspace, blaming "conflicting information".

Bolivia accused France, Italy, Spain and Portugal of blocking the plane.

It said some wrongly believed US fugitive Edward Snowden was on board.

Speaking in Berlin, French President Francois Hollande said he granted permission as soon as he knew it was Mr Morales' plane.

President Morales was flying back to Bolivia from Moscow when the plane was forced to stop in Vienna.

Angry reactions

The French foreign ministry issued a statement on the incident.

Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said: "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."

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Media captionFootage shows Bolivian President Evo Morales waiting inside Vienna airport, as Steve Rosenberg reports

The episode sparked angry reactions from heads of state across Latin America.

  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner referred to "not only the humiliation of a sister country, but of the South American continent".
  • Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro said on Twitter: "I reaffirm all our solidarity with Evo [Morales] and from Venezuela, with dignity, we will respond to this dangerous, disproportionate, and unacceptable aggression"
  • Ecuador's President Rafael Correa tweeted: "We express our solidarity with Evo [Morales] and the brave Bolivian people."
  • A statement by Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff said: "The embarrassment to President Morales hits not only Bolivia, but all of Latin America."

Demonstrators marched on the French embassy in La Paz, burning the French flag and demanding the expulsion of the ambassador to Bolivia.

President Correa asked that the Unasur group of South American nations call an urgent meeting over the matter.

The secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza, expressed his "deep displeasure" with the "lack of respect" shown by the countries that denied airspace to Mr Morales' jet.

Bolivia's Vice-President Alvaro Garcia said a group of Latin American leaders would meet in Cochabamba, Bolivia, on Thursday over the case.

Austrian officials said the airport authorities had searched the plane, but with Mr Morales's permission.

But the Bolivian government denied any search had taken place.

The plane took off from Vienna on Wednesday morning, having landed there late on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, France urged EU-US trade talks be delayed amid the fallout from secrets leaked by Mr Snowden.

The talks are due to begin on Monday but claims that the US bugged EU diplomatic offices in the US, and spied on internal computer networks, have upset transatlantic relations.

However, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Berlin did not back a delay to the talks, which correspondents say if successful will deliver the biggest trade deal in history.

Mr Snowden is still believed to be in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, from where he is seeking asylum in Bolivia and several other countries.

He is wanted by the US on charges of leaking secrets he gathered while working as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), America's electronic spying agency.

The leaking of thousands of classified intelligence documents prompted revelations that the US has been systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data.

China, Russia and several European countries have expressed anger with the US over the apparent scale of its surveillance programme.