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Snowden Makes Multiple Asylum Requests

Edward Snowden
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Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor, has applied for asylum in 19 more countries in a bid to end his legal and diplomatic limbo in Moscow's Sheremetevo airport.

WikiLeaks, the whistleblower organisation which has been advising Mr Snowden, said it had handed the asylum requests to a Russian official to give to the different embassies in Moscow.

The countries include China, Brazil, India, Russia and Venezuela, in addition to European nations including France, Germany, Italy and Norway. Mr Snowden had previously applied to Ecuador and Iceland.

(Read More: Snowden Accuses US of Obstructing Efforts to Seek Asylum)

The number of requests reflects the growing difficulties Mr Snowden faces in his attempts to evade prosecution in the US for leaking top secret documents about surveillance activities.

When he left Hong Kong 10 days ago, Mr Snowden appeared to be heading to Ecuador. But the country's president Rafael Correa said on Monday that it was no longer considering his request. "It was a mistake on our part" to have helped him travel to Russia, Mr Correa said in an interview with the Guardian.

Earlier in the day, Russian officials acknowledged that Mr Snowden had applied for asylum in Moscow. Kim Shevchenko, an employee at the airport's consular department, told the FT he had been visited on Sunday evening by Sarah Harrison, a lawyer for WikiLeaks who is travelling with Mr Snowden.

(Read More: Putin: Snowden Should Stop Harming 'Our American Partners')

Mr Snowden's Russian asylum application came as President Vladimir Putin appeared to warm to the idea of the fugitive staying in the country on condition that he halted his revelations on US surveillance operations.

"If he wants to stay here, there is one condition: he has to stop his work aimed at damaging our US partners, no matter how strange this sounds coming from me," Mr Putin said on Monday.

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But he added: "Snowden feels he is a fighter for human rights, he doesn't appear to intend to give up such work. Therefore he should pick a country for himself and travel there. When this will happen, I don't know."

Mr Snowden arrived in Moscow on June 23 and seems increasingly desperate to leave. At the weekend, one avenue appeared to close when Mr Correa said the fugitive's fate was in the hands of Russian authorities.

Russian and foreign news agencies have reported that Mr Snowden has tried and failed to seek asylum in more than a dozen countries.

In a statement released by WikiLeaks on Monday, Mr Snowden criticized the US for pressuring other governments to refuse his requests for asylum.

(Read More: Snowden's Options to Evade US Arrest Are Narrowing)

"These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me," he said. "Although I am convicted of nothing, it [the US government] has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person."

Speaking in Tanzania on Monday, President Barack Obama said the US and Russia did not have an extradition treaty, which meant Mr Snowden's case was complicated.

But he said that given Mr Snowden does not have a valid passport, he hoped Russia would make decisions "based on the normal procedures regarding international travel and the normal interactions that law enforcement has".

The Kremlin appears to be becoming frustrated that Mr Snowden's continued presence in the airport transit area – with no US passport, no Russian visa, and no country offering to take him in – is damaging relations with Washington.

But Mr Putin denied that Russia would extradite Mr Snowden. "Russia never extradites anyone anywhere and is not going to extradite anyone. No one ever extradites anyone to us, you probably know this well, too. At best, we have exchanged our foreign intelligence employees for those detained, arrested and sentenced by court in Russia," he said.

The Russian leader has rarely passed up an opportunity to needle the US and it is likely, say analysts, that Russia granted Mr Snowden safe passage to fly from Hong Kong last week for that reason.

(Read More: Russie Defiant as US Raises Pressure Over Snowden)

According to one rumor, Mr Snowden could fly out in the private jet of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, who was in Moscow this week for a gas summit. Mr Maduro last week said Venezuela was "prepared to protect this brave youth in a humanitarian way and so that humanity can learn the truth".

Mr Putin said he knew "nothing about this" when asked at the press conference. He also went to great lengths to distance Moscow from Mr Snowden's revelations about US surveillance on its own citizens and on foreign governments.

(Read More: US Warns Countries Against Snowden Travel)

"It's none of our business that allies are bugging each other. Let them do what they want," Mr Putin said, referring to allegations that the US has bugged EU premises.

He noted that Mr Snowden had not published any information on US bugging of Russian targets – "though I cannot exclude such a possibility," he added.

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