Whistleblower Snowden in Moscow; requests Ecuadorean asylum

Whistleblower Snowden in Moscow; requests Ecuadorean asylum

Former National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden on Sunday applied for asylum in Ecuador after flying to Moscow from Hong Kong, dpa reported.

"The Government of Ecuador has received an asylum request from Edward J #Snowden," Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino Aroca wrote on Twitter.

Snowden arrived in Moscow Sunday afternoon on an Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong. He remained in the transit section of Sheremetyevo airport, where he met with Ecuadorian Ambassador Patricio Chavez, local media reported.

Russian television showed Chavez's limousine with the Ecuadorian flag at the airport and crowds of reporters trying to interview passengers.

Snowden could not leave the airport because he has no valid Russian visa, the Interfax news agency reported, quoting unnamed airport officials.

The US meanwhile warned other countries not to allow Snowden to travel to their territory.

"The United States has been in touch via diplomatic and law enforcement channels with countries in the Western Hemisphere through which Snowden might transit or that could serve as final destinations," an unnamed State Department official told the New York Times.

"The US is advising these governments that Snowden is wanted on felony charges, and as such should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States."

Aeroflot and airport sources had confirmed earlier that Snowden has a ticket to Cuba. The next flight from Sheremetyevo to Havana leaves at 2:05 pm (1005 GMT) Monday. It was unclear how he would get from Cuba to Ecuador.

Snowden, who has been charged in the United States with espionage, boarded Aeroflot Flight SU213 to Moscow in Hong Kong early on Sunday, apparently with the help of WikiLeaks. The anti-secrecy group said in a statement that Snowden is bound for Ecuador "via a safe route" and that he is being escorted by diplomats and legal advisors from WikiLeaks.

The statement did not identify the accompanying diplomats' nationality.

In a further diplomatic twist, the US reportedly revoked Snowden's passport, but apparently too late to prevent him from leaving Hong Kong.

The passport was revoked Saturday after the Justice Department finally unsealed charges on Friday, ABC News reported.

The channel also said that the US embassy in Moscow notified the Russian government that Snowden no longer has a valid passport and that the US "desires to have him deported."

A US Embassy spokesman told dpa that he had no immediate comment Sunday.

A Russian law enforcement source said that Snowden could continue his journey without a valid US passport. The Ecuadorian government only needs to hand him a refugee card or a passport, the source told Interfax.

Earlier, Moscow lawmakers had pleaded for granting Snowden asylum in Russia.

"Mr #Snowden stay in Russia! :)" Robert Shlegel, a lawmaker for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, said on Twitter.

Another United Russia deputy, Ilya Kostunov, suggested that Russian intelligence officers should interview Snowden. "He possibly has information that would seriously enhance Russia's security," Kostunov told the Izvestia newspaper.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration was left "scrambling" for answers as to how the fugitive was able to jet to Moscow, while Washington slept, despite carrying a passport that can no longer be used, ABC News quoted an unnamed US official.

US lawmakers warned that Snowden's passage through Moscow could further damage already strained US-Russia relations.

The Hong Kong government said that Snowden left the city voluntarily and that a US extradition request did not fully comply with the legal requirements.

The former British colony has been a special administrative region of China since 1997, retaining rights to free speech and assembly.

US authorities have been seeking Snowden since earlier this month, when he revealed to journalists the existence of several far-reaching telephone and internet surveillance programmes.

Snowden's departure came after he told the South China Morning Post that US authorities had hacked into Chinese mobile companies and a major Beijing university.

Chinese state media on Sunday called on the US to "come clean" about the full extent of its cyberespionage programme.

The official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary that the revelations demonstrated the US, "which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyberattacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age."

The commentary is one of the strongest-worded responses yet in Chinese state media to Snowden's allegations, in the absence of any detailed reaction from Beijing.

The Central Propaganda Department is believed to have instructed Chinese media and websites to avoid or delete comments on the Snowden affair except those from Xinhua, according to the US-based China Digital Times website.

Snowden left the United States in May.

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