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Edward Snowden Applies for Asylum in Russia

July 2, 2013

A Russian immigration official said Monday that U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden has applied for political asylum in Russia.

The official, who spoke to Russian and international reporters on condition of anonymity, said a WikiLeaks activist who is traveling with Snowden handed his application to a Russian consulate in the transit area at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport late on Sunday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country has never extradited anyone before and that Snowden could remain in Moscow if he stopped issuing leaks.

Putin said Monday that if Snowden wants to stay in Russia he "must stop his work aimed at harming our American partners - no matter how strange this may sound coming from me."

But he added that the former U.S. spy agency contractor seems to have no plans to quit doing so.

Putin said the U.S. fugitive "is not a Russian agent," repeating that Russian intelligence services were not working with Snowden, who remains in the airport transit area eight days after arriving from Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama played down a related controversy over whether Washington had spied on its European allies, saying all intelligence services around the world seek to understand what other nations are thinking.

Speaking in Tanzania, Mr. Obama said the United States is still evaluating reports in the German weekly Der Spiegel about the surveillance program and would contact its European counterparts to provide all the information they are requesting.

Several European leaders, including French President Francois Hollande and EU Parliament President Martin Schulz, have strongly criticized allegations the U.S. National Security Agency bugged European Union offices and gained access to its internal computer networks.

The allegations have led some in Europe to call for a suspension of talks on a trans-Atlantic trade agreement.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday mutual trust must be restored following the allegations that appeared Saturday in Der Spiegel.

The magazine said the NSA placed listening devices in EU offices in Washington, Brussels and the United Nations in New York, and infiltrated EU computers to monitor telephone conversations, emails and other documents. It quoted secret U.S. documents leaked by Snowden, a former NSA contractor.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday it is "not unusual" for lots of nations to engage in efforts to protect their security.

"I will say that every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs of national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contributes to that," said Kerry.

Snowden fled the U.S. to Hong Kong in May and then disclosed key documents about the surveillance programs being conducted by the National Security Agency to thwart terrorism.

He was believed to be seeking asylum in Ecuador in a bid to escape extradition to the United States, which has annulled his passport. But Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said Sunday that Snowden's fate was in the hands of Russian authorities.

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