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The European Parliament on Thursday called for its member countries to grant fugitive former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden asylum as a whistleblower and "international human rights defender."
Snowden, who leaked classified documents about government surveillance before going on the run, is now living in exile in Moscow. He has expressed interested in returning to the United States, which indicted him for espionage and unauthorized leaking in 2013. Snowden has said he was willing to serve some prison time.
On Twitter, Snowden called Thursday's vote in Brussels, which urged European Union members to drop any criminal charges against him, as a "game-changer."
He added, "This is not a blow against the U.S. Government, but an open hand extended by friends. It is a chance to move forward."
The development raises the possibility that Snowden could settle somewhere in Europe, where his exposure of wiretapping by the United States and its allies has drawn widespread popular support.
But the measure,which passed by a vote of 285-281, is only a recommendation; it is up to individual countries to decide whether to offer Snowden refuge.
The Obama Administration responded by saying the vote did nothing to impact the pending case against Snowden.
"Our position has not changed," Ned Price, spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement. "Mr. Snowden is accused of leaking classified information and faces felony charges here in the United States. As such, he should be returned to the U.S. as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process."