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Snowden could win Nicaragua asylum if circumstances permit: Ortega

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega speaks during the presentation of credentials from Mexico's Ambassador to Nicaragua Juan Rodrigo Labardi
Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega speaks during the presentation of credentials from Mexico's Ambassador to Nicaragua Juan Rodrigo Labardi

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaragua has received an asylum request from fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden and could accept the bid "if circumstances permit," President Daniel Ortega said on Friday.

"We are an open country, respectful of the right of asylum, and it's clear that if circumstances permit, we would gladly receive Snowden and give him asylum in Nicaragua," Ortega said during a speech in the Nicaraguan capital Managua.

Ortega, an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, did not elaborate on the conditions that would allow him to offer asylum to Snowden, who has been at the eye of a diplomatic storm since leaking high-level U.S. intelligence data last month.

Options have been narrowing for Snowden - believed to be staying in a transit area at a Moscow airport - as he seeks a country to shelter him from U.S. espionage charges.

A one-time Cold War adversary of the United States, Ortega belongs to a bloc of leftist leaders in Latin America that have frequently taken up antagonistic positions with Washington.

Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in the Americas, has benefited greatly from financial support from Venezuela, and Ortega was a staunch ally of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Chavez's successor Maduro voiced sympathy with Snowden and described him as a champion of human rights. That suggested Venezuela may help Snowden, who is stranded in Moscow after flying there from Hong Kong on June 23, to find a safe haven.

Snowden's bid for Icelandic citizenship hit an impasse earlier on Friday when the country's parliament voted not to debate it before the summer recess.

Afterwards, 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 organization, 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".

(Reporting by Ivan Castro; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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