LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- The European rerouting of the Bolivian presidential plane over suspicions that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden was aboard ignited outrage Wednesday among Latin American leaders who called it a stunning violation of national sovereignty and disrespect for the region.
But as President Evo Morales arrived home after an unplanned 14-hour layover in Vienna, there was no immediate sign that Latin America anger would translate into a rush to bring Snowden to the region that had been seen as likeliest to defy the U.S. and give him asylum.
Snowden was still believed to be in the transit area of Moscow's international airport. As his case grinds on, it appears to illustrate the strength of U.S. influence, despite the initial sense that the Obama administration lost control of the situation when China allowed Snowden to flee Hong Kong.
Morales originally planned to fly home from a Moscow summit via Western Europe, stopping in Lisbon, Portugal and Guyana to refuel. His plane was diverted to Vienna Tuesday night after his government said France, Spain and Portugal all refused to let it through their airspace because they suspected Snowden was on board. Spain's ambassador to Austria even tried to make his way onto the plane on the pretext of having a coffee to check that Snowden wasn't there, Morales said.
Morales had sparked speculation that he might try to help Snowden get out during a visit to Russia after he said that his country would be willing to consider granting him asylum. Austrian officials said Morales' plane was searched early Wednesday by Austrian border police after Morales gave permission. Bolivian and Austrian officials both said Snowden was not on board.
Bolivia's ambassador to the United Nations, Sacha Llorenti, said "the orders came from the United States."
"They want to frighten and intimidate me but they won't scare me," Morales said before finally taking off to Spain's Canary Islands and on to Brazil and then home. "We're not in colonial or imperial times ... this is an aggression against Latin America."
The presidential plane carrying Morales arrived in Bolivia's capital around midnight Wednesday local time. Addressing his supporters in the airport, he called what had happened to him "an open provocation to the continent."
Throughout Latin America there was a sense of deep injustice and offense at what was widely believed to be U.S.-prompted interference with Bolivia's equivalent of Air Force One.
"This is a humiliation for a sister nation and for the South American continent," said Cristina Fernandez, the leftist president of Argentina, describing the plane's rerouting as a "vestige of the colonialism that we thought we had completely overcome."
She said Morales' "total and indisputable" immunity as head of state had been violated when he was "illegally detained in old Europe."
Preventing the passage of a presidential jet and even searching it is legal under international law but unprecedented in recent memory, aviation experts said.
"It is extraordinary to prohibit passage through one's state air space en route to another state," said Ken Quinn, former chief counsel at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and head of the aviation practice at the Washington-based law firm Pillsbury Winthrop. "From a diplomacy standpoint, one does not normally interfere with diplomats and high-ranking public officials in transit."
The U.S. refused to comment on whether it was involved in any decision to close European airspace, saying only that "US officials have been in touch with a broad range of countries over the course of the last 10 days," about the Snowden case.
"The message has been communicated both publicly and privately," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday. "He should be returned to the United States."
European responses shifted throughout the day.
Spain explicitly denied Bolivian charges that it had closed its airspace to Morales.
After initial hedging from France, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius issued a statement Wednesday night acknowledging that Morales' plane was initially refused and saying he called his Bolivian counterpart to apologize. The statement didn't explain why.
Fabius "expressed France's regrets following the temporary problems that occurred for President Morales because of delays in confirming authorization to fly over (French) territory."
"There was naturally never any intention to refuse access to our airspace to President Morales, who is always welcome in our country," Fabius said.
Portugal said it had granted permission for the plane to fly through its air space but declined Bolivia's request for a refueling stop in Lisbon due to unspecified technical reasons.
Shades of outrage were felt across Latin America in countries with long experience on the sharp end of U.S. power, even those whose governments did not take sides with leftist Bolivia.