Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he had decided to offer "humanitarian asylum" to former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden to "protect him from persecution" by Washington.
"I've decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young American Edward Snowden so he can come and live in the fatherland of (19th century South American independence hero Simon) Bolivar and (Maduro's late predecessor and mentor, Hugo) Chavez, the leftist head of state said in a speech Friday to commemorate the 202nd anniversary of Venezuela's declaration of independence.
Maduro said during a military parade that he had decided to "offer this instrument of international humanitarian law to protect this young man, Snowden, from the persecution that has been unleashed by the world's most powerful empire against a young man who has told the truth."
"Who's in violation of international law? ... a young man who decided in an attitude of rebellion to tell the truth about U.S. spying on the world or a government like that of the U.S. ... that spies on the entire world?" Maduro asked rhetorically.
In his speech, Maduro also recalled this week's diversion and subsequent search of Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane in Austria.
The Bolivian presidential aircraft spent 13 hours on the ground in Vienna as Austrian authorities searched the plane for Snowden, who has released documents exposing Washington's massive surveillance of global telephonic and Internet communications.
That incident "triggered the imperial madness of the elite that governs the United States," Maduro said, adding that ministers of governments involved in that "shameful incident" had told him that the CIA had barred the leftist leader's plane from the airspace of several European countries.
"The CIA personally called the aeronautical authorities of Spain, Portugal, Italy and France and ordered them to close their airspace to the place of our president, Evo Morales," apparently on suspicion that Snowden was onboard, Maduro said.
Snowden, 30, has been stuck in the transit area at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport since he landed there from Hong Kong on June 23, as one country after another has rejected his request for asylum.
Washington, which is charging Snowden under the 1917 Espionage Act, revoked his U.S. passport, leaving him unable to board a commercial flight unless some other government provides him with travel documents.
Nicaragua, a close ally of Venezuela's, also offered Friday to grant asylum to Snowden under certain circumstances. EFE