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article imageEdward Snowden's whereabouts unknown, Ecuador considers asylum

By JohnThomas Didymus     Jun 25, 2013 in World
Moscow - The whereabouts of former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden remain uncertain. But with Ecuador saying it is considering Snowden's application for asylum, US authorities say he is likely still in Russia.
The US government's efforts to have China send Snowden to the US to face espionage charges failed when Chinese authorities allowed him to leave Hong Kong on Sunday for Moscow.
Julian Assange of WikiLeaks later said that the 30-year-old had left Moscow for Ecuador, and assured that he was in a "safe place" and in "good health."
Latest reports claiming that the fugitive is seeking asylum in Ecuador have been corroborated by Ecuadorean officials who said they were considering Snowden's request for asylum on human rights grounds.
According to Reuters, there are no direct flights to Ecuador from Moscow. Snowden was booked to fly to Ecuador via Cuba. A source at Russia's national airline, Aeroflot, confirmed that Snowden was booked on a flight due to depart for Havana on Monday at 5:05 a.m. CST. But a correspondent who was on the plane said he was not on the seat he was supposed to occupy. Seat 17A was reportedly taken by another passenger.
The correspondent noted, however, that It was not possible to confirm whether the plane had a crew section where Snowden might have been concealed.
Reuters reported that a source at Aeroflot confirmed that Snowden did not take the flight to Havana.
His absence on the flight to Havana led to speculations about his whereabouts which became even more confused when a WikiLeaks spokesman said Iceland had also been approached for asylum.
Meanwhile, Washington's apparent failure to convince both China and Russia to release the fugitive continues to pose major embarrassment to US diplomacy, especially in the context of the Obama administration's purported efforts to build ties with both Moscow and Beijing.
The White House had said that it expected the Russian government to release Snowden to the US. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said during his recent visit to India that it would be "deeply troubling" if Moscow refused Washington's entreaties, saying that Snowden had placed "himself above the law, having betrayed his country."
The Guardian reports Kerry said: "It would be deeply troubling, obviously, if they had adequate notice, and notwithstanding that, they make the decision willfully to ignore that and not live by the standards of the law."
It appears that US officials had thought they would be able to convince the Russians to hand Snowden over. But their expectations received a rude jolt in recent developments. Reactions from both China and Russia to US diplomatic moves reveal the extent of the no-love-lost rivalry between the countries and the US.
Russia blatantly ignored US appeals and President Vladimir Putin's press secretary, according to Reuters, reportedly claimed, unbelievably, that the Russian government has no knowledge of Snowden's whereabouts. When he was asked whether Snowden had spoken to the Russian authorities, he said: "Overall, we have no information about him."
Other Russian officials who spoke on the matter were blunt in their response, saying that Moscow has no obligations to cooperate with Washington on the matter after recent decisions by the US to impose sanctions on Russians accused of human rights violations. According to Reuters, Alexei Pushkov, head of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian lower house of parliament wondered aloud: "Why should the United States expect restraint and understanding from Russia?"
The Russian news agency Interfax reports that an official source claimed that Moscow could not arrest or deport Snowden because he has not entered Russian territory, a statement which was meant to drop the hint that the fugitive never left the transit area at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.
Judging from signals coming from Russian officials, it is possible that Snowden has been moved to an "in transit" location outside Russia in preparation for his final movement to Ecuador.
According to The Guardian, the Russian Interfax news agency quoted a source "familiar with Snowden's situation" as saying he was "probably already outside the Russian federation. He could have flown on a different plane. It is unlikely journalists could become witnesses to his flight."
The statement implies that the report that Snowden was booked for a Monday 5:05 a.m. CST flight to Havana, which was packed with journalists hoping to see him, was planned as part of diversionary tactics.
WikiLeaks' statement that Snowden has received a refugee document of passage from Ecuador and that he was travelling with a British legal researcher for the group appears to confirm suspicion that he is already outside Russia and en route to Ecuador.
The Guardian, however, reports that White House spokesman Jay Carney, said "it is our understanding that Mr. Snowden remains in Russia."
Meanwhile, Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, in a statement read in Hanoi, said Ecuador was considering Snowden's asylum request, but stressed that the country's authorities were not aware of his whereabouts. He said: "I cannot give you information about that. We are in contact with the Russian government, but this specific information about this precise situation of Edward Snowden, we cannot give it to you right now, because we don't have it."
He also read out a statement by Snowden in which he drew comparison between himself and Bradley Manning currently on trial in the US in the WikiLeaks case. Snowden, according to the statement, said: “It is unlikely that I will have a fair trial or humane treatment before trial, and also I have the risk of life imprisonment or death."
After Snowden left Hong Kong, Caitlin Hayden, the chief spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said that the US government "registered... strong objections to the [Chinese] authorities in Hong Kong as well as to the Chinese government through diplomatic channels and noted that such behavior is detrimental to US-Hong Kong and US-China bilateral relations."
The Chinese People's Daily, the Communist Party's official newspaper, responded vigorously to US accusations that China deliberately chose to "release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant," saying Beijing allowed Snowden to leave legally. According to RT, an official statement by the government of Hong Kong said that Snowden left Chinese territory legally and voluntarily and that the extradition documents the US submitted on charges of espionage were not sufficient to warrant his arrest under China's laws.
RT reports that the official People's Daily wrote in a commentary by Wang Xinjun, a researcher at the Academy of Military Science, that China could not accept "this kind of dissatisfaction and opposition [from the US]... Not only did the US authorities not give us an explanation and apology, it instead expressed dissatisfaction at the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for handling things in accordance with the law."
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, also described US accusations as "groundless and unacceptable." She said: "It is unreasonable for the US to question Hong Kong's handling of affairs in accordance with the law, and the accusation against the Chinese central government is groundless."
The People's Daily actually praised Snowden for exhibiting fearlessness "that tore off Washington's sanctimonious mask." The paper launched a surprisingly fierce attack on the US government, saying: "In a sense, the United States has gone from a model of human rights to an eavesdropper on personal privacy, the manipulator of the centralized power over the international Internet, and the mad invader of other countries' networks."
Observers are unanimous in the view that much of the animosity to the US in the present affair, both in Russian and Chinese official circles, stems from perceptions about the US's self-appointed role of global human rights policeman, a source of constant irritation because most perceive Washington's human rights posturing as blatantly hypocritical. Snowden's case has provided these countries an opportunity to make a show of the US in retaliation.
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