US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden remained stranded in a Moscow airport for a 14th day yesterday amid rising hopes he may finally be able to leave Russia after being offered asylum by Venezuela and two other countries.
The saga surrounding the fugitive former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor took a new turn late on Friday when Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro offered to grant the 30-year-old "humanitarian asylum."
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had earlier offered a safe haven for one of Washington's most wanted men "if circumstances permit". And yesterday Bolivian President Evo Morales says Snowden was welcome in his country.
Snowden has been denied asylum by many of the 21 countries to which he had applied.
The WikiLeaks whistle-blower website that has been supporting Snowden's cause said he had recently applied to six additional countries that it refused to name.
But it was far from clear how exactly Snowden could reach another nation from the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport.
He has been stripped of his passport by the US and a refugee pass initially believed to have been offered to him by Ecuador has since been declared invalid.
Maduro visited Moscow at the start of the week for a gas summit, during which he strongly hinted that Venezuela would welcome the opportunity to help Snowden. But he made his intentions absolutely clear in an independence day speech in Caracas.
"As head of state of the Bolivarian republic of Venezuela, I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to the young Snowden ... to protect this young man from the persecution launched by the most powerful empire in the world," said Maduro said.
The Nicaraguan president's message, delivered only minutes earlier, was more measured. "If circumstances permit it, we would receive Snowden … and give him asylum," Ortega said.
Morales said he offered Snowden asylym as a protest against US and European nations' blocking of his flight home from the Moscow gas summit on suspicion the fugitive was on board the presidential jet.
Additional reporting by Associated Press