US & Canada

Edward Snowden: China denies US accusations

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Media captionJournalists look for Mr Snowden on board a flight to Havana, however, seat 17a remains empty

China has described US accusations that it facilitated the departure of fugitive Edward Snowden from Hong Kong as "groundless and unacceptable".

A foreign ministry spokeswoman said the Hong Kong government had handled the former US intelligence officer's case in accordance with the law.

The US has criticised what it termed "a deliberate choice to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant".

The whereabouts of Mr Snowden, who flew to Russia on Sunday, are unclear.

The US has revoked his passport. On Monday, a seat was booked in his name on a flight to Cuba, but he was not on board.

Mr Snowden has applied for asylum from Ecuador, while Russia says it is studying an extradition request.

The 30-year-old IT expert is wanted by the US for revealing to the media details of a secret government surveillance programme, which he obtained while working as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA).

He is charged with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and wilful communication of classified communications intelligence.

The Chinese government has expressed deep concern about Mr Snowden's allegations that the US had hacked into networks in China.

Tuesday saw the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party praise Mr Snowden for "tearing off Washington's sanctimonious mask".

In a strongly worded front-page commentary, the overseas edition of the People's Daily said: "Not only did the US authorities not give us an explanation and apology, it instead expressed dissatisfaction at the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for handling things in accordance with law.

"In a sense, the United States has gone from a 'model of human rights' to 'an eavesdropper on personal privacy', the 'manipulator' of the centralised power over the international internet, and the mad 'invader' of other countries' networks."

'Negative impact'

US President Barack Obama briefly mentioned the case at the White House on Monday, telling reporters: "What we know is that we are following all the appropriate legal channels and working with various other countries to make sure that the rule of law is observed."

Speaking during a visit to India, US Secretary of State John Kerry said it would be "deeply troubling" if it became clear that China had "wilfully" allowed him to fly out of Hong Kong.

"There would be without any question some effect and impact on the relationship and consequences," he said.

He also called on Russia to "live by the standards of the law because that's in the interests of everybody".

Mr Snowden was in hiding in Hong Kong when his leaks were first published.

He is being supported by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks, which said on Sunday that he was heading to Ecuador accompanied by some of its diplomats and legal advisers.

Ecuador is already giving political asylum at its London embassy to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is wanted for questioning in Sweden over allegations of sexual assault - which he denies.

Mr Snowden's leaks have led to revelations that the US is systematically seizing vast amounts of phone and web data under an NSA programme known as Prism.

US officials have defended the practice of gathering telephone and internet data from private users around the world.

They say Prism cannot be used to intentionally target any Americans or anyone in the US, and that it is supervised by judges.