South American nations to hold summit over grounding of Bolivian president Evo Morales' plane, as France apologises

The 12-nation Unasur bloc meeting as regional leaders express anger over incident

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The Independent Online

Heads of state of 12 South American countries are today holding a summit in Cochambamba, Bolivia, to discuss the "unfriendly and unjustifiable" treatment of president Evo Morales, whose jet was diverted after suspicions that whistleblower Edward Snowden was onboard.

The Bolivian president's presidential plane was abruptly refused entry to France, Portugal, Italy and Spain's airspace while returning from Moscow on Tuesday, forcing it to make an unscheduled landing in Austria. Snowden, who is wanted by Washington for leaking secret documents, was not onboard and Morales returned to a hero's welcome in his home country late yesterday.

In a statement released after Morales touched down, the 12-nation bloc Unasur - including Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina and Uruguay - denounced the act in a joint statement. The incident is perceived as another example of US aggression in a region with a history of Washington-backed coups.

Speaking in Buenos Aires, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner said: "[These are] vestiges of a colonialism that we thought were long over. We believe this constitutes not only the humiliation of a sister nation but of all South America."

Bolivia filed a complaint to the United Nations yesterday, describing the incident as tantamount to a kidnapping of the president and his diplomatic jet.

France have since apologised for denying the plane access to their airspace, blaming "conflicting information". Speaking in Berlin, President Francois Hollande said he was quick to grant permission when he found out it was Morales' plane.

"We will demand appropriate explanations from those countries that submitted to North American imperialism and briefly put President Morales in such a helpless situation," Sacha Llorenti, the country's ambassador to the UN told state radio Patria Nueva.

Bolivia's vice-president, Alvaro García Linera, said Morales was "kidnapped by imperialism".