(CNN) - A defiant Evo Morales was back in Bolivia on Thursday, railing against the United States after his presidential jet was held up in Europe under suspicions that U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden had hitched a ride.
France, Spain, Portugal and Italy refused to let the president's plane fly through their airspace after rumors surfaced that Snowden might be on board.
With no clear path home available, the flight's crew made an emergency landing in Vienna, Austria, where it spent some 14 hours.
Austrian officials confirmed that Snowden was not aboard after Morales allowed an airport police officer onto his plane for a "voluntary check," Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck said.
The Bolivians squarely put the blame on Washington for Morales' unexpected side trip.
"Message to the Americans: The empire and its servants will never be able to intimidate or scare us," Morales told supporters at El Alto International Airport outside La Paz late Wednesday. "European countries need to liberate themselves from the imperialism of the Americans."
A small but energetic crowd greeted Morales at the airport, chanting his name and draping him in flowers. A military band played patriotic music, while some waved pictures of the president.
On Thursday, Morales broached the subject again during a speech.
"What happened during these days is not a coincidence, not a mistake like some governments say," Morales said. "It is part of a policy to continue intimidating the Bolivian people and Latin America."
He added, "Our sin is being indigenous and anti-imperialist."
Outrage in Latin America
The incident has sparked a global diplomatic feud that's roiled leaders throughout South America.
"What just happened with the South American indigenous leader Evo Morales shows the level of madness and desperation that the (U.S.) empire has reached," Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said.
He blamed the CIA, saying he believes the agency pressured governments to refuse to allow Morales through their airspace.
The Union of South American Nations released a statement Wednesday saying the group "rejects categorically the dangerous act" of denying Morales' plane access.
The leaders of these countries are scheduled to meet Thursday in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to discuss the matter.
By Wednesday evening, the presidents of Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Suriname, Ecuador and Bolivia had confirmed their plans to attend, said Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, who called the situation "very serious."
During the plane holdup, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera described Morales as a "hostage of imperialism."
"The president has been kidnapped by imperialism, and he is being held in Europe," he said in a televised address in the early hours of the incident. The vice president called for workers worldwide to protest "this act of imperial arrogance."
He said Bolivia would complain to the United Nations.
The situation drew a stern rebuke from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who said it was "life-threatening" for the Bolivian leader.
"The Brazilian government expresses its outrage and condemnation of the embarrassment imposed on President Evo Morales by some European countries," she said in a statement Wednesday. "The pretext that led to this unacceptable behavior -- the supposed presence of Edward Snowden in the plane of the president -- was fictional and a serious disrespect to the law and to international practices and standards of civilized co-existence among nations."
The impact of the European countries' actions extends far beyond Bolivia's borders, she said.
"The embarrassment to President Morales reaches not only Bolivia, but all of Latin America. It compromises the dialogue between the two continents and possible negotiations between them," she said. "It also requires prompt and explanation by the countries involved in this provocation."
Cuba's Foreign Ministry also condemned the incident.
"This constitutes an unacceptable, unfounded and arbitrary act which offends all of Latin America and the Caribbean," the ministry said.
Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner described Morales' treatment in Europe as humiliating, not only "to a sister nation but to the whole South American continent."
So where is Snowden?
The situation is the latest twist in what has become a global guessing game over Snowden's next steps.
Snowden has admitted leaking classified documents about U.S. surveillance programs and faces espionage charges in the United States. He has applied for asylum in 21 countries, including Bolivia.
Snowden has been holed up at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport since June 23. He arrived after a flight from Hong Kong.
Morales, a left-leaning president who has long criticized the United States, had been attending a conference of gas-exporting countries in Russia, where he told the Russia Today news network that he would be willing to consider asylum for Snowden.
But Bolivian officials said accusations that an official aircraft would harbor Snowden were baseless.
"We cannot lie to the international community by carrying ghost passengers," Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said.
Moscow condemned the nations that blocked Morales' path.
"France, Spain, and Portugal's actions (were) not friendly toward Bolivia and toward Russia," the Russian Foreign Ministry said. "Moscow will demand strict observance of international law ... guaranteeing immunity of heads of state."
France denied it refused to allow the plane to enter its airspace.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called his Bolivian counterpart to express regrets about a delay in the confirmation to authorize the plane to fly over its territory, the French Foreign Ministry said.
The authorization was granted as soon as French authorities were informed the plane was the Bolivian president's aircraft, the ministry said.
France "never intended to deny president Morales' plane access to (its) airspace," and the Bolivian leader is welcome in France, Fabius said.
France was among the countries where Snowden sought asylum. France said Thursday it had refused the request.
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