Bolivian President Evo Morales reacted furiously on Wednesday to the refusal by several European countries to let his plane overfly their territory due to rumours that US fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden was on board.

Morales was forced to divert to Vienna on Tuesday night, on his way back from a meeting in Russia.

Bolivia said France, Portugal, Spain and Italy barred his plane from their airspace on suspicion that Snowden, who is trying to avoid extradition to the US on espionage charges, was travelling with him.

The restrictions were lifted by Wednesday morning after it became clear that Snowden was not on board. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy confirmed Snowden wasn’t on the plane as Morales resumed his journey home.

But the Bolivian leader was furious at his treatment, which he saw as “not an insult to the president, but to an entire people, to the entire region of Latin America.” Speaking at the Vienna airport, he said he felt he had been “abducted for nearly 13 hours” and threatened legal action against the governments of Spain, France, Portugal and Italy.

The four countries “need to explain to the world the reasons for this arrest,” Morales said.

Later on Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius expressed regret for what he said was a delay in issuing the overflight authorisation. The Foreign Ministry in Paris said that Fabius phoned his Bolivian counterpart, David Choquehuanca, to express France’s regret.

There had “naturally, never been the intention to refuse access to our airspace to the plane of President Morales,” Fabius was quoted as saying.

Choquehuanca later told Venezuelan TV that the US had filed an extradition request with La Paz.

“The US wrote us to seek the extradition of Edward Snowden in the case that he is in Bolivian territory,” he said. “We believe that the US believed Snowden was on the presidential plane and that the (European) states acted accordingly.” The US declined to comment directly on the actions of the European nations, referring questions to them.

“Our position on Mr Snowden has also been crystal clear in terms of what we want to happen,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Diplomats from Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru, Venezuela and Colombia issued a joint declaration in Madrid accusing European governments of “aggression” in denying Morales entry into their airspace.

Their attitude had endangered the president’s life, they complained. European countries had treated Morales in a “colonial” fashion, complained David Nieves, the Venezuelan consul to Gran Canaria.

Morales was returning from a meeting in Moscow, where Snowden has spent more than a week in diplomatic limbo in an airport transit area.

The 30-year-old former intelligence contractor, whose US passport has been revoked, is wanted for leaking documents containing revelations about US spying programmes.

He has sought asylum – so far in vain – first from Ecuador and 20 other countries, including Bolivia.

Morales poured scorn on the idea that he would smuggle Snowden.

Snowden was “not a suitcase, not an animal, not a fly which I can put on the plane and take to Bolivia,” he said.

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said police had been allowed to visit the plane, as it was important for other countries to know that there were no unidentified passengers on board. Morales denied there was an inspection.

US-EU trade deal

Meanwhile, the fallout from allegations that the US National Security Agency had conducted massive spying of European allies continued ahead of the planned start of talks on a mammoth EU-US trade deal.

French government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem called for a temporary suspension of trade talks set to begin next week until the US explains reports that it bugged EU offices and embassies and monitored huge volumes of communications in Germany and France. But in Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said the talks should begin on Monday as planned.

In Brussels, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding warned that “for the trade agreement with the EU to be a success story, there needs to be confidence, transparency and clarity among the negotiating partners – and this of course excludes spying on EU institutions.” Reding was speaking at a debate in the European Parliament, which saw lawmakers at odds over how to proceed with the trade deal. Many believe that it will boost growth and jobs in the crisis-plagued EU.

“We cannot sacrifice everything on the altar of this,” Socialist parliamentarian Dimitrios Droutsas said. “We cannot back down on the fundamental rights of European citizens and our self-respect (for) economics.”

“I think it would be severely misguided to now suspend talks on the free trade agreement,” liberal parliamentarian Sophia in ‘t Veld shot back. “But it is absolutely clear that we cannot sign an agreement with a partner that we cannot fully trust.”