Moscow: US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden prepared to fly out of Russia on Monday to seek asylum in Ecuador, as Washington demanded Moscow hand over the fugitive to face espionage charges at home.
Snowden left Hong Kong on a commercial Aeroflot flight on Sunday and is said by Russian officials to have spent the night in a Moscow airport awaiting his onward connection.
Russian security sources said they had no reason to arrest the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, who officials described as an ordinary "transit passenger" who had not crossed the border.
According to Russian state media, he spent the night in the distinctly unglamourous "capsule hotel" Vozdushny Express located inside the departures area of Moscow`s Sheremetyevo airport.
Snowden, the target of a US arrest warrant issued Friday after the IT contractor leaked details of US cyber-espionage programmes to the media, is reportedly booked on a flight to Cuba today from where he could travel on to South America.
Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino confirmed that the leftist Latin American country, whose embassy in London is already sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, was analysing Snowden`s asylum request.
"We will make a decision... We are analysing it," Patino told reporters Monday in Hanoi when asked about the high-profile asylum request.
"We know he is in Moscow, we`re in talks with higher authorities," Patino.
Ecuador`s outspoken leftist President Rafael Correa has championed the cause of Assange and his allies to the fury of the United States.
AFP correspondents at Sheremetyevo airport did not see Snowden or his party in the vicinity of the hotel inside the transit zone of the terminal.
After the Hong Kong flight landed, he did not emerge into the main terminal area, where crowds of journalists quizzed his jet-lagged and bewildered fellow passengers about whether they had seen Snowden.
State television said several Ecuadorean diplomats were seen going inside the hotel and stayed there about 30 minutes yesterday evening.
The Ecuadorean ambassador to Moscow, Patricio Chavez, did not leave the airport until after midnight, refusing any comment to waiting reporters.
Sources within Aeroflot had said Sunday Snowden would fly onwards to Cuba today. The flight SU 150 to Havana with Russian carrier Aeroflot is due to depart Sheremetyevo at 1005 GMT.