(Reuters) - Fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden is seeking asylum in Ecuador, the Quito government said on Sunday, after Hong Kong let him leave its territory despite Washington's efforts to extradite him on espionage charges.
An aircraft believed to be carrying Snowden landed in Moscow, and the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said in a statement he was "bound for the Republic of Ecuador via a safe route for the purposes of asylum".
Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, visiting Vietnam, tweeted: "The Government of Ecuador has received an asylum request from Edward J. #Snowden."
Ecuador is sheltering WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange at its London embassy, and Ecuador's ambassador to Russia said he expected to meet Snowden in Moscow on Sunday.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has good ties with WikiLeaks and is in a politically confident mood after his recent landslide re-election.
Snowden's departure from Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997, is likely to be highly embarrassing for the administration of President Barack Obama. U.S. authorities had said only on Saturday they were optimistic Hong Kong would cooperate over Snowden, who revealed extensive U.S. government surveillance in the United States and abroad.
Earlier, a source at the Russian airline Aeroflot had said Snowden would fly on from Moscow within 24 hours to Cuba, although the source said he planned to go on to Venezuela.
Venezuela, Cuba and Ecuador are all members of the ALBA bloc, an alliance of leftist governments in Latin America that pride themselves on their "anti-imperialist" credentials.
Ecuadorean Ambassador Patricio Alberto Chavez Zavala told reporters at a Moscow airport hotel that he would hold talks with Snowden and Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks representative. "We're waiting for Sarah. We're going to talk to them," he said, without revealing what the discussion would cover.