Ecuador Set to Announce Assange Decision Amid Strains With U.K.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. Photographer: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa will announce today whether his country will give asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who’s taken refuge in its embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden.

Correa will make the announcement at 7 a.m. in Quito, a spokesman for the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, who declined to be named in line with official practice, said today. Ecuador accused the British Foreign Office yesterday of threatening to “assault” the mission in its efforts to hand over Assange.

The U.K. “directly threatens the government of Ecuador to take actions to arrest Mr. Julian Assange in the installations of the embassy of Ecuador in London,” Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters in Quito. Any forced entry is “inadmissible” and would be considered a “hostile and unfriendly act.”

Assange sought refuge in the embassy on June 19 after exhausting options in U.K. courts to avert extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning on allegations of rape and sexual molestation. The 41-year-old Australian, first arrested in London in December 2010, breached the terms of his bail by staying at the Ecuadorean Embassy.

According to a note from the Foreign Office handed to the Ecuadorean Foreign Ministry yesterday, the U.K. considers the continued use of embassy premises to shelter Assange to be “incompatible” with international diplomatic rules.

‘Take Action’

“You should be aware that there is a legal basis in the U.K. -- the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act -- which would allow us to take action to arrest Mr. Assange in the current premises of the embassy,” the Foreign Office said in the note. “We very much hope not to get this point, but if you cannot resolve the issue of Mr. Assange’s presence on your premises, this route is open to us.”

Britain would prefer to reach an amicable agreement with Ecuador, the Foreign Office said.

“The U.K. has a legal obligation to extradite Mr. Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offenses and we remain determined to fulfill this obligation,” the ministry said in a statement. “We are still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution.”

The claims against Assange became public around the same time he posted classified U.S. cables on the WikiLeaks website. Assange argues Sweden fabricated the arrest warrant to assist the U.S. in punishing him for the breach.

Patino said Ecuador will call an emergency session of the Organization of American States and the Union of South American Nations to discuss the “threat” against its sovereignty by the U.K.

Relations between the U.S. and Ecuador have also been strained. The two nations have sparred over Correa’s attempts to imprison journalists for publishing remarks he found offensive. In April, President Barack Obama named Ecuador as an example of nations that have implemented measures restricting free speech.

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