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Iceland parliament declines Snowden's citizenship bid

by FP Staff  Jul 6, 2013 03:00 IST

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - A bid by Edward Snowden for Icelandic citizenship failed when the country's parliament voted not to debate it before the summer recess, lawmakers said on Friday, with options for the U.S. fugitive narrowing by the day.

The vote leaves Snowden - believed to be staying in a transit area at a Moscow airport - with one option fewer as he seeks a country to shelter him from U.S. espionage charges.

Following the news in Iceland, WikiLeaks announced that Snowden had applied to another six countries for asylum, adding to a list of more than a dozen countries which he has already asked for protection.

The anti-secrecy organisation, which has been supporting Snowden's efforts to find a safe haven since his exit from Hong Kong 12 days ago, said on Twitter it could not reveal the names the countries due to "attempted U.S. interference".

Six members of Iceland's parliament tabled a proposal late on Thursday to grant Snowden citizenship after they received a request from him via WikiLeaks, opposition parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir said.

But a majority of parliamentarians voted late on Thursday against allowing the proposal to be put on the agenda, a day before parliament went into summer recess. It does not reconvene until September.

"Snowden has formally requested citizenship. But nothing is now going to happen. We could not even vote on it," Jonsdottir told Reuters.

In a letter dated July 4, posted on Jonsdottir's blog, Snowden wrote that he had been left "de facto-stateless" by his government, which revoked his passport after he fled the country and leaked information about U.S. surveillance operations.

Most of the countries he has already sought asylum in, including Iceland, say he must be on their soil for his application to be accepted.

His request for citizenship was a different tack, hoping that Iceland would give him a passport, as it has done in at least one similar case in the past.

"I appreciate that Iceland, a small but significant country in the world community, shows such courage and commitment to its higher laws and ideals," he wrote in the letter.

Under Icelandic law, parliament can grant citizenship to foreigners, which can otherwise usually only be gained through naturalisation after a period of residence.

Chess master Bobby Fischer was granted Icelandic citizenship by parliament after he got into trouble with the United States over tax evasion and breaking sanctions by playing a match in Yugoslavia in 1992.

After years living abroad, he was detained in Japan, where he applied for and was awarded Icelandic citizenship in 2005. He spent his last years in Iceland before dying in 2008.

Iceland's recently elected centre-right government is seen as far less willing to engage in an international dispute with the United States than the previous government, even if it will want to maintain the country's reputation for promoting Internet freedom.

"It is a disappointment that he is facing limited options," WikiLeaks Icelandic spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told Reuters. "I am not optimistic that the new conservative government will take steps of courage and boldness to assist Mr Snowden."

Russia has shown signs of growing impatience over Snowden's stay in the country.

Its deputy foreign minister said on Thursday that Snowden had not sought asylum in the country and needed to choose a place to go.

Moscow has made clear that the longer he stays, the greater the risk of the diplomatic standoff over his fate causing lasting damage to relations with Washington.

(Additional reporting by Alistair Scrutton and Mia Shanley in Stockholm, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Editing by Michael Roddy)