Assange at Ecuador mission,seeks asylum

WikiLeaks founder faces arrest as he violated terms of bail but beyond reach of police

Written by Associated Press | London | Published: June 21, 2012 12:42:26 am

British police stood poised Wednesday to arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should he step out of Ecuador’s London embassy,but authorities conceded he is beyond their grasp as long as he stays inside. Assange says he is seeking political asylum at the South American nation’s diplomatic mission.

Police said he had violated the terms of his bail,which include an overnight curfew,and “is now subject to arrest”. Police officers were stationed outside the Edwardian apartment block in the tony Knightsbridge district that houses the embassy,along with small group of pro-Assange protesters waving “Free Assange’’ placards. Telephones at the embassy went unanswered.

The Foreign Office said as long as Assange remains inside,he is “beyond the reach of police’’. “We will seek to work with the Ecuadorean authorities to resolve this situation as soon as possible,’’ it said in a statement.

The 40-year-old Australian took refuge in the embassy a few doors down from the Harrods department store on Tuesday. He said he was seeking political asylum in Ecuador,whose leftist President Rafael Correa has previously offered words of support.

The situation threatens to inflame tensions between the government of Rafael Correa,Ecuador’s leftist and ardently anti-Washington president,and US authorities,who accuse Assange of damaging its foreign relations with his leaks.

Ecuador is studying and analysing the request,Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters in Quito. He added that any decision would be made with respect for norms and principles of international law.

Since his detention,Assange has mostly been living under strict bail conditions at the country mansion of a wealthy supporter in eastern England. His associates say that amounts to 540 days under house arrest without charge. Breach of bail conditions is potentially a criminal offence.

Ecuador said Assange would “remain at the embassy,under the protection of the Ecuadorean government’’. Assange arrived at the embassy asking for protection and complaining that his home country Australia had abandoned him and refused to defend him,according to a statement from Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry.

“Such statements (from Australia) make it impossible for me to return to my home country and put me in a state of helplessness by being requested to be interrogated by the Kingdom of Sweden,where its top officials have openly attacked me,” the ministry quoted him as saying on its website.

According to Patino,Assange fears extradition to a country where espionage and treason are punished with the death penalty. He appeared to be referring to the US,because Sweden does not have the death penalty. Neither Sweden nor the US has charged him with treason or spying.

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