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Originally published July 5, 2013 at 6:07 PM | Page modified July 5, 2013 at 9:10 PM

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Venezuela, Nicaragua offer ex-NSA contractor Snowden asylum

Presidents Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua made their offers to Edward Snowden during separate speeches in their home countries Friday. The American remains stranded at a Moscow airport.

Seattle Times news services

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CARACAS, Venezuela — The presidents of Nicaragua and Venezuela offered Friday to grant asylum to fugitive former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, one day after leftist South American leaders gathered to denounce the rerouting of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane over Europe amid reports that the American was aboard.

Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua made their offers during separate speeches in their home countries Friday afternoon.

Snowden, who has been stranded in a Moscow airport searching for a haven, has asked for asylum in numerous countries, including Nicaragua and Venezuela.

“I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young American Edward Snowden,” Maduro said during a televised appearance at a military parade marking Venezuela’s independence day.

Maduro said he had decided to act “to protect this young man from the persecution unleashed by the world’s most powerful empire.”

It was not immediately clear, however, how Snowden could reach Venezuela or whether Maduro was willing to help get him there.

Ortega also said he was open to taking in Snowden. “It is clear that if the circumstances permit, we will take in Mr. Snowden with pleasure and give him asylum in Nicaragua,” Ortega said.

Snowden has sought asylum from more than two dozen nations. Most countries have declined.

The offers from Venezuela and Nicaragua appeared to be linked to outrage in Latin America over the treatment last week of Morales, whose presidential jet was denied access to Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese airspace and airports because it was feared to be carrying Snowden to asylum.

However, according to Russian news reports, quoting those they described as sources within the Russian Security Services, an American official failed to notice that Snowden was at one airport and the Bolivian presidential jet was taking off from another, about 35 miles away.

Bolivia has referred the diplomatic incident to the United Nations, and the United States is trying hard to distance itself from the affair.

By the time Morales’ jet took off from Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport last week, Snowden had been holed up for nine days in the international transit area of Sheremetyevo International Airport across town.

Worries that Morales, who was in Moscow for a conference of natural gas-producing nations, might try to spirit Snowden away from American justice — Snowden is facing espionage charges for leaking classified documents he accessed through NSA computers — stemmed from remarks the Bolivian president made.

“If there were a request made, of course we would be willing to debate and consider the idea, he said of Snowden’s search for a haven.

But sneaking Snowden onto the Bolivian plane wouldn’t have been a simple matter.

As the Russian news service RIA Novosti reported, quoting an unnamed source in the Russian Security Services: “Snowden could not have gotten into the president’s plane. A transfer from Sheremetyevo to Vnukovo is possible only by crossing into the territory of Russia, for which Snowden would have required a transit visa. However, he is not in the possession of such a visa, and we have no information of him crossing into the territory of Russia.”

Earlier Friday, WikiLeaks said in a post on Twitter that Snowden “has applied to another six countries for asylum,” following up on similar applications to about 20 nations last week.

“They will not be named at this time due to attempted US interference,” the group wrote on Twitter.

In Russia, officials have expressed impatience over Snowden’s continuing stay in the airport transit zone in Russia. On Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Snowden should pick a destination and leave as soon as possible.

Russia was apparently among the original countries to which Snowden submitted an asylum request, but a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin has said that the request was withdrawn.

Compiled from The Associated Press, The New York Times and McClatchy news service reports

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