25 Jun 2013

China angered at US accusations

10:14 pm on 25 June 2013

China says accusations by the United States that it aided the flight of fugitive American spy agency contractor Edward Snowden from Hong Kong are groundless and unacceptable.

The 30-year-old IT expert is wanted by the US for revealing to the media details of a secret government surveillance programme, Prism, which he obtained while working as a contractor for the National Security Agency.

Mr Snowden released the information while in Hong Kong before boarding a flight to Moscow on Sunday. He has applied for asylum in Ecuador, but his exact whereabouts remain unclear.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said all parties should accept that the Hong Kong government had handled the case in accordance with the law, Reuters reports.

But the White House said Hong Kong had deliberately released a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant. It said that decision unquestionably will have a negative impact on the US-China relationship.

Meanwhile, Russia says it has had no involvement in the travel plans of Edward Snowden. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that had not crossed the Russian border and told a news conference that US attempts to blame Russia for his disappearance are unacceptable.

"We are in no way involved with either Mr Snowden, his relations with US justice, nor to his movements around the world," Mr Lavrov said.

The BBC reports Mr Lavrov's comments suggest that Mr Snowden remained airside after landing in Moscow, and so has technically never entered Russian territory.

The White House is pressuring Russia to expel Edward Snowden and has revoked his passport. Spokesperson Jay Carney said Washington assumed that he was still in Moscow and lashed out at Beijing for letting him go, despite extradition requests, AFP reports.

"With regards to ... the Chinese government, we are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant, and that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the US-China relationship."

Mr Carney told reporters the White House believes Russia should accept a request for Mr Snowden to be expelled back to the US. He refused to speculate on the implications of any failure by Russia to hand over Mr Snowden.

President Barack Obama declined to say whether he had contacted Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he met a week ago in Northern Ireland, over the matter.

Ecuador confirms asylum request

During a visit to Vietnam on Monday, Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino confirmed that his country was processing an asylum request from Edward Snowden.

Mr Patino read aloud a letter the fugitive sent to Ecuador in which he said he was "at risk of being persecuted by the US and its agents". When asked whether he knew of Mr Snowden's current location, the BBC reports Mr Patino declined to answer.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he knows where Edward Snowden is but can't disclose his whereabouts because of threats from the US. He said Mr Snowden had been supplied with 'a refugee document of passage' by the Ecuadorian government.

WikiLeaks said one of its team members is travelling with Mr Snowden. Spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme that he is safe.

The organisation said Mr Snowden has not passed on any sensitive information to Russia or China, as has been claimed by the US.