CARACAS, Venezuela -- Latin American leaders reacted with fury Wednesday to the diversion of the plane carrying Bolivia's President Evo Morales through European airspace, calling it a grave offense to all of their countries, unjustified by suspicions that the fugitive former U.S. security contractor, Edward J. Snowden, was on board.
Latin American leaders immediately called for an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations, expected to occur today. Argentina's President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said the episode had "vestiges of a colonialism that we thought was completely overcome," adding that it was a humiliating act that affected all of South America.
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said in a Twitter post that the situation was "EXTREMELY serious" and called it an "affront to all America," referring to Latin America.
The diplomatic skirmish began with a seemingly offhand remark. Mr. Morales was flying home Tuesday from Moscow, where he had attended a meeting of natural-gas exporting nations, and had told Russian television that he was open to giving asylum to Mr. Snowden.
Mr. Snowden has been holed up at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow for more than a week, hoping to receive a positive response to the asylum requests he has made to several countries, and Mr. Morales' remark may have set off suspicion that he was bringing the fugitive aboard.
After taking off from Moscow, Mr. Morales' plane asked permission to land in France to refuel, according to Carlos Romero, the minister of government in La Paz. But France refused and denied the plane permission to enter French airspace, Bolivian officials said. Portugal had also previously refused to let the plane land for refueling in Lisbon.
Mr. Morales was finally given permission to land in Vienna, where he spent the night. Mr. Morales told reporters in Vienna that he had not met Mr. Snowden in Moscow, and that he had previously known little about the case.
Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundböck said the Austrian border authorities carried out a routine check of the passports of everyone aboard Mr. Morales' plane after it landed, and that they were also granted permission to search the plane to ensure that Mr. Snowden was not aboard. "The rumors were just that," he said.
For many in the region, the episode was a throwback to the colonial era, when European nations held sway over a weak Latin America. Many also blamed the United States, insisting that the Obama administration had instructed its European allies to stop Mr. Morales' plane on the suspicion that it carried Mr. Snowden, who is wanted on charges of violating espionage laws for divulging secrets about U.S. surveillance programs.
After European nations cleared Mr. Morales to fly, he took off from the Vienna airport about 11:30 a.m. local time Wednesday and later stopped for refueling in the Canary Islands, which belong to Spain. He was expected to make another refueling stop in Brazil before arriving home in La Paz on Wednesday night.
Before Mr. Morales' plane left the Vienna airport, the crew awaited authorization to continue through other European nations' airspace, Austrian authorities said.
Bolivian Defense Minister Rubén Saavedra, who was on the plane with Mr. Morales, accused the Obama administration of being behind the action by France and Portugal, calling it "an attitude of sabotage and a plot by the government of the United States." There was no immediate response by officials in Washington.
On Monday, Mr. Morales, while attending the energy conference in Moscow, was asked in an interview on the Russia Today television network if he would consider giving asylum to Mr. Snowden.
"Yes, why not?" he responded. "Of course, Bolivia is ready to take in people who denounce -- I don't know if this is espionage or monitoring. We are here."
He said, though, that Bolivia had not received a request from Mr. Snowden, despite news reports to the contrary.