Whistleblower Snowden set to fly out of Russia as US demands handover

Snowden Russia_0.jpg

 
Moscow: US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden prepared to fly out of Russia on Monday to seek asylum in Ecuador, as Washington demanded Moscow hand over the fugitive to face espionage charges at home.
 
Snowden left Hong Kong on a commercial Aeroflot flight on Sunday and is said by Russian officials to have spent the night in a Moscow airport awaiting his onward connection. Russian security sources said they had no reason to arrest the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, who officials described as an ordinary "transit passenger" who had not crossed the border.
 
According to Russian state media, he spent the night in the distinctly unglamourous "capsule hotel" Vozdushny Express located inside the departures area of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. Snowden, the target of a US arrest warrant issued Friday after the IT contractor leaked details of US cyber-espionage programmes to the media, is reportedly booked on a flight to Cuba Monday from where he could travel on to South America.
 
Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino confirmed that the leftist Latin American country, whose embassy in London is already sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, was analysing Snowden's asylum request. "We will make a decision... we are analysing it," Patino told reporters Monday in Hanoi when asked about the high-profile asylum request. 
 
"We know he is in Moscow, we're in talks with higher authorities," Patino. Ecuador's outspoken leftist President Rafael Correa has championed the cause of Assange and his allies to the fury of the United States.
  
US expecting Russia to return Snowden to US
 
AFP correspondents at Sheremetyevo airport did not see Snowden or his party in the vicinity of the hotel inside the transit zone of the terminal. After the Hong Kong flight landed, he did not emerge into the main terminal area, where crowds of journalists quizzed his jet-lagged and bewildered fellow passengers about whether they had seen Snowden.
 
State television said several Ecuadorean diplomats were seen going inside the hotel and stayed there about 30 minutes Sunday evening. The Ecuadorean ambassador to Moscow, Patricio Chavez, did not leave the airport until after midnight, refusing any comment to waiting reporters. 
 
Sources within Aeroflot had said Sunday Snowden would fly onwards to Cuba on Monday. The flight SU 150 to Havana with Russian carrier Aeroflot is due to depart Sheremetyevo at 1005 GMT.
 
Part of the flight to Havana will pass through oceanic airspace that is controlled by New York air traffic centre, a source told ITAR-TASS news agency, though it wasn't clear whether US authorities would be able to somehow ground the plane.
 
The State Department had revoked Snowden's passport and and ordered other countries to prevent him from travelling. However a source in Russia's security agencies told Interfax that Snowden could travel without a passport once he is granted asylum.
 
"Ecuador authorities could supply him with refugee documents or even grant him citizenship by issuing a passport or a special note," the source said. The White House on Monday urged Moscow to cooperate in bringing Snowden under US custody, citing prior "intensified cooperation" between security services of the two countries, including on the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombings.
 
"We expect the Russian government to look at all options available to expel Mr. Snowden back to the US to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged," National Security Spokesman Caitlin Hayden said.
 
"We have registered our strong objections to the authorities in Hong Kong as well as to the Chinese government through diplomatic channels and noted that such behaviour is detrimental to US-Hong Kong and US-China bilateral relations," she added.
 
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, travelling with Secretary of State John Kerry in India, confirmed the United States revoked Snowden's passport due to "felony arrest warrants" against him. 
 
A Russian security source earlier told Interfax that there are "no grounds" to detain Snowden as a transit passenger since he is not on Interpol's wanted list. "He has not committed any crimes in Russia," the source said.
  
'A safe route for asylum'
 
The WikiLeaks website said it had helped organise Snowden's safe exit and confirmed he "is bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum". Former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, legal director of WikiLeaks, condemned the pursuit of both Assange and Snowden as an "assault against the people".
 
WikiLeaks confirmed that Snowden was accompanied by a British citizen named Sarah Harrison, whom it described as a "journalist and legal researcher" working with the WikiLeaks legal team. 
 
Snowden abandoned his high-paying job in Hawaii and went to Hong Kong on May 20 to begin issuing a series of leaks on the NSA gathering of phone call logs and Internet data, triggering concern from governments around the world. 
 
Hong Kong, a special administrative region (SAR) under Chinese rule that has maintained its own British-derived legal system, said it had informed Washington of Snowden's exit after determining that the documents provided by the US government did not fully comply with Hong Kong legal requirements.
Next: Ecuador says Snowden raises 'freedom of expression' issue 

Ecuador says Snowden raises 'freedom of expression' issue 
Hanoi: Ecuador's foreign minister said protection for fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was an issue of "freedom of expression" as his government analyses a request for asylum by the whistleblower.
Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, is in Russia after arriving Sunday from Hong Kong, hoping to win asylum in Ecuador and evade arrest after leaking sensational details of secret US surveillance programmes of Internet and phone data. He has infuriated and embarrassed Washington with a series of leaks that have strained diplomatic ties between the US and countries that have failed to extradite him despite a warrant by American authorities.
"We will make a decision... we are analysing it," Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters through a translator in Hanoi of the asylum request by Snowden. "It (the request) has to do with freedom of expression and the security of citizens around the world," he added. "We always act by principle not in our own interest. There are some governments who act more on their own interests, we do not."
The 30-year-old IT contractor was expected to head to Ecuador via Cuba and AFP correspondents at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport saw an Ecuadoran flagged diplomatic car at VIP arrivals. "We know he is in Moscow, we're in talks with higher authorities," Patino, who is on an official visit to communist Vietnam, said. The South American country, led by outspoken leftist President Rafael Correa, has been sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is wanted by Sweden, at its London embassy for the past year.
US authorities have been left red-faced by Snowden's revelations of intelligence trawling by the NSA of phone call logs and Internet data, prompting concern from governments around the world and outrage from privacy campaigners. Snowden made the revelations from Hong Kong which allowed him to travel to Moscow, a decision described as 'troubling' by US authorities who have laid charges including of theft and espionage against the whistleblower, revoked his passport and sought his extradition.
Russian officials said Snowden could still potentially make it to Ecuador without a valid US passport. "If he has asked for asylum in Ecuador then they could give him a refugee document or even Ecuadoran citizenship allowing him to continue his journey," a security source told Interfax. Snowden's dramatic evasion of US authorities has stirred tensions between Washington and Moscow and Beijing -- which retains ultimate control over Hong Kong. 

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