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Ecuador Grants WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Political Asylum
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has been granted political asylum by Ecuador after taking refuge in the country's embassy in London. The announcement will increase tensions between the UK and the South American country, which has been warned that the situation could have "serious implications" for diplomatic relations
Ecuador grants WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange political asylum
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has been granted political asylum by Ecuador after taking refuge in the country's embassy in London.
The announcement will increase tensions between the UK and the South American country, which has been warned that the situation could have "serious implications" for diplomatic relations.
Assange sought sanctuary in the embassy in Knightsbridge in an effort to avoid deportation to Sweden, where he faces sexual assault charges.
Ecuadorian ministers have accused the UK of threatening to attack the embassy to seize Assange after it emerged that a 1987 law could allow the revocation of a building's diplomatic status if the foreign power occupying it "ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post".
Under international law, diplomatic posts are considered the territory of the foreign nation.
The Foreign Office has said the decision on Assange's application for political asylum would not affect the UK's legal obligation to extradite him to Sweden.
The asylum decision was announced by the foreign affairs minister, Ricardo Patiño, in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito and was watched live by Assange and embassy staff via a video link to the press conference.
Patiño said the Ecuadorian government had conducted lengthy diplomatic talks with the British, Swedish and US governments.
None could give the guarantees about Assange's future that the South American country was seeking and had shown "no willingness" to negotiate on the issue.
US authorities were specifically asked if they had any intention to seek Assange's extradition so they could start legal proceedings against him, and what the maximum penalty was that he could face.
"The response from the United States has been that it cannot offer any guarantees. With these precedents in mind the Ecuadorian government, loyal to its tradition to protect those who seek refuge with us and in our diplomatic mission, have decided to grant diplomatic asylum to Mr Assange."
Patiño called for Assange to be guaranteed safe passage to leave the embassy but the Foreign Office insisted this would not be offered.
The minister said: "We trust that the United Kingdom will offer, as soon as possible, the guarantee for the safe passage for this asylum of Mr Assange and that they would respect those international agreements that they have signed in the past and that they have always respected."
He said he hoped Ecuador's friendship with the UK would "remain intact".
"We share the respect for the same values of human rights, democracy and peace which are only possible once fundamental human rights are respected," he said.
A Foreign Office spokesman said the government was disappointed by Patiño's statement and stressed that the UK had a "binding obligation" to extradite Assange.
Britain threatens to storm Ecuador embassy to get Assange
The diplomatic standoff over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange escalated on Wednesday after Britain threatened to raid Ecuador's embassy in London if Quito did not hand over Assange, who has been taking refuge there for two months.
The Ecuadorean government said such an action would be considered a "hostile and intolerable act" as well as a violation of its sovereignty.
"Under British law we can give them a week's notice before entering the premises and the embassy will no longer have diplomatic protection," a Foreign Office spokesman said.
"But that decision has not yet been taken. We are not going to do this overnight. We want to stress that we want a diplomatically agreeable solution."
Quito bristled at the threat and said it would announce its decision on Assange's asylum request on Thursday at 7 a.m. (1200 GMT).
"We want to be very clear, we're not a British colony. The colonial times are over," Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said in an angry statement after a meeting with President Rafael Correa.
"The move announced in the official British statement, if it happens, would be interpreted by Ecuador as an unfriendly, hostile and intolerable act, as well as an attack on our sovereignty, which would force us to respond in the strongest diplomatic way," Patino told reporters.
Ecuador, whose government is part of a left-leaning bloc of nations in South America, called for meetings of regional foreign ministers and the hemispheric Organization of American States to rally support in its complaint against Britain.
"We are deeply shocked by British government's threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorean Embassy and their suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy," the mission said on its website.
"This is a clear breach of international law and the protocols set out in the Vienna Convention."
The embassy, near London's famed Harrods department store, was under tight surveillance, with three police officers manning the entrance and several others patrolling around the red-brick building.
A group of Assange supporters who responded to a rallying call by WikiLeaks on Twitter gathered outside to demand Assange's freedom and streamed the scene live on the Internet.
"We have been here day in day out as a vigil to make sure there is at least a witness to all of this," said Anthony, one of the supporters.
WikiLeaks earlier tweeted saying, "If police storms, they will do so in early hours of the morning. Please stay, & those who can, go to the embassy and #ProtectAssange".
WANTED IN SWEDEN
The Australian former hacker has been in the embassy for eight weeks since losing a legal battle to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he has been accused of rape and sexual assault by two WikiLeaks supporters.
"The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences and we remain determined to fulfill this obligation," a Foreign Office spokesman said earlier.
Swedish prosecutors have not yet charged Assange, but they have moved forward with their investigations and they believe they have a case to take to trial.
Assange fears Sweden could send him on to the United States, where he believes authorities want to punish him for publishing thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks in 2010 in a major embarrassment for Washington.
Even if he were granted asylum, Assange has little chance of leaving the Ecuadorean embassy in London without being arrested.
There has been speculation he could travel to an airport in a diplomatic car, be smuggled out in a diplomatic bag, or even be appointed an Ecuadorean diplomat to give him immunity.
But lawyers and diplomats see those scenarios as practically unworkable.
The Ecuadorean government has said it wants to avoid Assange's extradition to Sweden, but approval of asylum would offer no legal protection in Britain where police will arrest him once they get a chance.
"The question of asylum is arguably a red herring," said former British government lawyer Carl Gardner.
Ecuador's leader Correa is a self-declared enemy of "corrupt" media and U.S. "imperialism", and apparently hit it off with Assange during a TV interview the Australian did with him in May.
Correa joked then with Assange that he had joined "the club of the persecuted".
Some, though, find Assange's connection with Ecuador odd, given that Correa is labeled a persecutor of the media by journalism freedom groups.
(Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina in London and Jose Llangari in Quito; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Sandra Maler)
UK threatened to arrest Assange inside embassy, says Ecuadorean minister
Britain has told the Ecuadorean authorities it believes officials can enter its embassy in London and arrest Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, according to Ecuador's minister for foreign affairs, Ricardo Patino.
The development came two months after Assange walked into the embassy in a bid to avoid being extradited to Sweden where he faces allegations of sexual assault.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Patino said Ecuador would announce its decision regarding Assange's asylum request at 7am (noon GMT) on Thursday.
Patino also released details of a letter he said was delivered through a British embassy official in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.
The letter said: "You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy."
The letter added: "We need to reiterate that we consider the continued use of the diplomatic premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna Convention and unsustainable and we have made clear the serious implications that this has for our diplomatic relations."
An Ecuadorean government spokesman said: "We are deeply shocked by the British government's threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorean embassy and their suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy.
"This a clear breach of international law and the protocols set out in the Vienna Convention.
"Throughout out the last 56 days Mr Julian Assange has been in the Embassy, the Ecuadorean government has acted honourably in all our attempts to seek a resolution to the situation.
"This stands in stark contrast to the escalation of the British government today with their threats to break down the door of the Ecuadorean embassy.
"Instead of threatening violence against the Ecuadorean embassy, the British government should use its energy to find a peaceful resolution to this situation which we are aiming to achieve."
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We have consistently made our position clear in our discussions with the government of Ecuador.
"The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences and we remain determined to fulfil this obligation.
"We have an obligation to extradite Mr Assange and it is only right that we give Ecuador the full picture.
"Throughout this process we have drawn the Ecuadoreans' attention to relevant provisions of our law, whether, for example, the extensive human rights safeguards in our extradition procedures, or the legal status of diplomatic premises in the UK.
"We are still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution."
Assange denies the allegations against him, but fears he will be sent to the United States if he goes to Sweden.
An offer to the Swedish authorities by Ecuador for investigators to interview Assange inside the London embassy was rejected.