LATIN AMERICA

Ecuador studies Assange asylum plea

British police threaten to arrest WikiLeaks founder for breaking bail conditions

Reporters have been camped outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since Tuesday night.
Reporters have been camped outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since Tuesday night.F. A. (EFE)

Ecuador said Wednesday that it will make a decision this week on whether to grant WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asylum while he remains holed up in that country's embassy in London.

Police in London said Assange was "out of their reach" but warned that if he walked outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, he would be arrested for violating his bail conditions, which include an overnight curfew.

"We will seek to work with the Ecuadorian authorities to resolve this situation as soon as possible," the Foreign Office said in a statement.

The 40-year-old Australian sparked a diplomatic row when he walked into the embassy in the Knightsbridge district on Tuesday night and filed a petition for asylum. Earlier this month, Assange lost the legal fight against his extradition to Sweden to face questions over alleged sexual assaults on two women that took place in 2010.

"The decision to consider Mr Assange's application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the Government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden," the government in Quito said on its website.

In Quito, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño told reporters on Tuesday that Assange had sent a letter to President Rafael Correa in which he claimed he was being "persecuted" in Britain.

Welcome to the club of the persecuted," Correa told Assange in April

In April, Assange interviewed Correa for a program on the Russia Today network. At the end of the interview, in which Correa hurled criticisms at the press in his own country, the Ecuadorian leader thanked Assange and said: "Welcome to the club of the persecuted."

Later, Correa publically sympathized with Assange's plight during his weekly radio and television show, saying that the Australian was "being lynched by a media mob."

That wasn't the first time Ecuador's leftist government had praised Assange. In November 2010, Reuters reported that Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas said that Ecuador was attempting to get in touch with Assange to invite him to live and lecture in the country.

By June 14, Assange had exhausted all of his legal options to prevent authorities from sending him to Sweden, when Britain's High Court refused to review his last appeal. Assange and his supporters say that they fear the Swedish government will turn him over to the United States, which wants to question him about the leaking of more than 400,000 classified US Embassy cables in 2010 on the WikiLeaks website - an action that catapulted Assange to international fame.

A US army specialist, Bradley Manning, who was deployed to Baghdad, is facing court martial in connection with the release months earlier of classified documents and combat videos to WikiLeaks. Prosecutors believe that Manning, who is said to be an expert hacker, may have also aided Assange in obtaining the cables, which contained blunt assessments by US diplomats on many world leaders.

Meanwhile, groups of Assange supporters have joined the media circus outside the embassy, holding up banners and signs demanding that the WikiLeaks founder be allowed to leave for Ecuador.

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