‘They told us Snowden was in the plane’: Spain

Spain on Friday tried to defuse a diplomatic row ignited when Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane was diverted because of suspicions that fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was aboard.

'They told us Snowden was in the plane': Spain
The plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales lands at Las Palmas airport, on the Spanish Canary Island of Gran Canaria on July 3rd. Photo: Desiree Martin/AFP

"We have to try somehow to calm things down, relax the mood, and resume relations," Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo said in an interview with Spanish public broadcaster TVE.

Bolivia reacted furiously after Morales, flying home from Moscow on Tuesday, had to land in Vienna, accusing several European nations of denying his jet overfly rights.

Spain's foreign minister denied, however, that his country closed its airspace to the Bolivian leader's plane, which resumed its journey on Wednesday and refuelled in Las Palmas on the Spanish archipelago of the Canary Islands.

"What Spain said was that in no case was it going to restrict its airspace and that it would keep its authorization in force so the plane could land and refuel in Las Palmas," Margallo said.

Bolivia accused France, Portugal, Italy and Spain of denying flyover rights because they suspected the plane was carrying Snowden, who is seeking to avoid US espionage charges after leaking embarrassing details of a vast US phone and Internet surveillance programme.

"They told us he was in the plane," said Garcia Margallo during his RTVE interview on Friday.

Asked whether Spain had been contacted by US authorities, or whether they had made contact, the foreign minister said: "That remains secret."

"European countries reacted the way they did because the information they gave us was that he (Snowdon) was on board," he added.

"We evaluated the risk (that Snowden was on the plane) but once I have a written guarantee that he isn't, I believe in the word of an ally, which Bolivia is." 

The 30-year-old intelligence leaker is still believed to be 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.

Spain had earlier said that Snowden could not apply for asylum in Spain because he was not on national soil. 

In related news, Bolivia's Latin American allies have also responded with outrage to the diversion of Morales' flight to Vienna.

Ecuador said  Spain had told its ambassador in Austria to board Morales’ plane in Vienna in bid to see if Snowden was on board, Spanish daily El País reported on Friday.

The newspaper also quoted Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as saying: “Who does that prime minister, Rajoy, think he is? He thinks South Americans are still his slaves?” 

Maduro also said he would reconsider his country’s relations with the “vile” ruling Popular Party government, but “not with the people of Spain", news agency EFE reported.

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Spain refuses to hand over opposition figure to Venezuela

The Spanish government said Thursday it would not hand over Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez, who is wanted by authorities in Caracas but has taken refuge in Madrid's embassy in Caracas.

Spain refuses to hand over opposition figure to Venezuela
Photo: AFP

The government “does not envisage in any circumstances handing over Leopoldo Lopez to the Venezuelan authorities nor asking him to leave the ambassador's residence”, the Spanish foreign ministry said in a statement.   

Lopez emerged on Tuesday from two years of house arrest to join opposition leader Juan Guaido at a demonstration as the National Assembly president tried to incite a military uprising against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.   

Later that day, Lopez sought refuge in the Chilean embassy with his wife and daughter before moving to the Spanish embassy.   

Lopez was first arrested in 2014 and accused of inciting violent protests against the government. He was handed a nearly 14-year sentence in 2015 and then transferred to house arrest in 2017. 

Madrid published the statement following a meeting between the Spanish ambassador and Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.    

It said that Spain wanted to “find a solution as quickly as possible” but stressed that, under international law, diplomatic residences were inviolable.    

Lopez's wife Lilian Tintori claimed on Twitter on Wednesday that their house had been robbed and ransacked while they were away.   

In statements made at the Spanish ambassador's residence on Thursday, Lopez said that the attempted uprising was “part of a process — it's a crack that will become a bigger crack… that will end up breaking the dam.”

READ MORE: Spain insists fresh elections 'only way out' of Venezuela crisis