Ecuador to act on principles on asylum request from Snowden

Ecuador's foreign minister said yesterday, his country would act not on its interests but on its principles as it considered an asylum request from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, wanted for revealing classified US secrets, AP reported.

Speaking to reporters in Hanoi, foreign minister Ricardo Patino said he could not comment on the Snowden's location after the US fugitive failed to board a flight from Moscow to Cuba on which he was booked, according to AP.

"I cannot give information with respect to that ... we cannot offer specific information about the specific situation of Mr Snowden at this moment," he said.

Patino though left unsaid how long it would take Ecuador to decide on Snowden's asylum request, which he said "has to do with freedom of expression and with the security of citizens around the world."

Snowden had been hiding in Hong Kong for several weeks following the revelation of the spy programmes. He flew to Moscow on Sunday and was booked on an Aeroflot flight to Cuba yesterday, but, according to an airline representative, he did not board the plane and AP reporters on the flight could not see him.

Meanwhile, the US yesterday stepped up pressure on Russia to hand over Snowden, and said it believed he continued to be in Moscow despite reports he was leaving for Cuba Reuters reported. (See: US pressures Russia, blasts China as Snowden flees again)

Snowden, who earlier, had been working as a contractor with the US National Security Agency, had been expected to fly to Havana from Moscow, perhaps en route to Ecuador. However, he was not seen on the plane and Russian officials declined to say where he was.

 According to the US state department, diplomats and justice department officials were engaged in discussions with Russia, suggesting they were looking for a deal for securing his return.

"Given our intensified cooperation working with Russia on law enforcement matters ... we hope that the Russian government will look at all available options to return Mr. Snowden back to the U.S. to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged," spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.

Snowden flew to Moscow after being allowed to leave Hong Kong on Sunday, even though Washington had called for his detainment by the Chinese territory pending his possible extradition on espionage charges.

White House spokesman Jay Carney defending the administration's attempts to bring Snowden into US custody, blamed China for assisting in his departure from Hong Kong. He added it would damage relations between the US and China.