Fugitive Snowden's options narrow as asylum requests spurned
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Countries in Latin America, Asia and Europe spurned asylum requests by Edward Snowden on Tuesday, despite a call by Venezuela for the world to protect the former U.S. spy agency contractor wanted by Washington for espionage.
Snowden, who revealed secret U.S. electronic surveillance programs, has applied for political asylum in more than a dozen countries in his search for safety from prosecution in the United States.
The 30-year-old American is in legal limbo in the transit area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, unable to fly out because he has no legal travel documents and also has no Russian visa to leave the airport.
On Monday, he broke over a week-long silence since arriving in Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23, challenging Washington by saying he was free to publish more about its programs and that he was being illegally persecuted.
That ruled out a prolonged stay in Russia, where a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said Snowden had withdrawn his request for asylum after the Russian leader said he should stop "harming our American partners."
Five countries have rejected granting him asylum, seven said they would consider a request if made on their soil, and eight said they had either not made a decision or not received a request.
While country after country denied his asylum requests on technical grounds, Venezuela, part of an alliance of leftist governments in Latin America, said it was time to stop berating a man who has "done something very important for humanity".
"He deserves the world's protection," President Nicolas Maduro told Reuters during a visit to Moscow for a meeting of gas exporting countries.
"He has a right to protection because the United States in its actions is persecuting him ... Why are they persecuting him? What has he done? Did he launch a missile and kill someone? Did he rig a bomb and kill someone? No. He is preventing war."
Maduro said he would consider an asylum application. He later had talks with Putin but neither leader said whether they had discussed Snowden. However, Russian news agencies Interfax and RIA reported on Tuesday night that the Venezuelan president was leaving Moscow for Belarus without Snowden.
The American's request for safety in Ecuador, which has sheltered the founder of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks Julian Assange in its London embassy, no longer looks promising.
Bolivia has said it would consider an asylum request but Vice President Alvaro Garcia said Tuesday that none had been received. Nicaragua too said it had not received one.
U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear to a number of countries that granting him asylum would carry costs.
Snowden has prepared asylum requests in countries including India, China, Brazil, Ireland, Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela, WikiLeaks has said.
But several countries, including Snowden's favored Ecuador, said on Tuesday they could not consider an asylum request from Snowden unless he was on their territory.
Norway said he was unlikely to get asylum there, Brazil ruled out even answering his request and Poland said it would not give a "positive recommendation" to any application.
Finland, Spain, Ireland and Austria said he had to be in their countries to make a request, while India said "we see no reason" to accept his petition. France said it had not received a request and China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said she had no information on Snowden's asylum request.
Officials in Russia, which has made clear it wants Snowden to leave, say an embassy car would be considered foreign territory if a country picked him up.
Snowden's options have narrowed sharply.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has said giving Snowden a temporary travel pass to fly to Moscow was "a mistake on our part".
Moscow is unwilling to send Snowden to the United States, a move that could make it look weak, and it has no extradition treaty with Washington. But it also does not want to damage ties with the United States over a man for whom Putin, a former KGB spy, has little sympathy.
At a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Brunei, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he had raised Snowden "from our point of view" despite the affair not being in their domain.
"Russia has never extradited anyone, is not extraditing anyone and will not extradite anyone," Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters.
Peskov said Snowden showed no sign of stopping releasing secret U.S. documents and added that he had abandoned his intention of staying in Russia.
In an undated letter to Ecuador's Correa seen by Reuters, Snowden said he was "dedicated to the fight for justice in this unequal world". "I remain free and able to publish information that serves the public interest," Snowden said in the letter.
(Additonal reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Brunei; Daniel Ramos in La Paz, Ivan Castro in La Paz; Writing by Elizabeth Piper, Timothy Heritage, Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jon Boyle and Tim Dobbyn)
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