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Assange granted asylum; UK-Ecuador impasse grows

India TV News Desk 16 Aug 2012, 22:01:35 IST
India TV News Desk
London, Aug 16: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was today granted asylum by Ecuador, leading to an unprecedented diplomatic situation between London and Quito, in whose embassy here he has been holed up to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual offences. 

The announcement that Assange has been granted asylum was made by Ecuador foreign minister Ricardo Patino in capital Quito in a televised statement today.

He set out the background and grounds on which Ecuador had granted asylum to Assange, and noted the possibility that he could be extradited to the United States from Sweden.  

The granting of asylum has led to a situation in which Britain had earlier clarified that it had powers to enter the Ecuador embassy in London and arrest the 41-year-old Australian national who has been holed up there since June 19.  Britain said it was under legal obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “It (the granting of asylum) does not change our position. Our legal position is not changing at all.

“Our position is that we have a duty to extradite him, even if he is granted political asylum”.

A number of Assange's supporters gathered outside the embassy this morning and shouted slogans in support of Ecuador and Assange.

Three persons were arrested this morning in a scuffle between the police and Assange's supporters.  

Earlier, in a statement, WikiLeaks said it condemned “in strongest possible terms the UK's resort to intimidation”, and added: “Any transgression against the sanctity of the embassy is a unilateral and shameful act, and a violation of the Vienna Convention, which protects embassies worldwide”.

WikiLeaks said the British threat was designed to pre-empt Ecuador's decision on whether it will grant political asylum to Assange, and “to bully Ecuador into a decision that is agreeable to the United Kingdom and its allies”.  

The statement said: “A threat of this nature is a hostile and extreme act, which is not proportionate to the circumstances, and an unprecedented assault on the rights of asylum seekers worldwide.

“We draw attention to the fact that the United Nations General Assembly has unanimously declared in Resolution 2312 (1967) that ‘the grant of asylum... is a peaceful and humanitarian act and that, as such, it cannot be regarded as unfriendly by any other State'”.

The website noted that Assange had not been charged with any crime in any country.

The statement added: “We note with interest that this development coincides with the UK Secretary of State William Hague's assumption of executive responsibilities during the vacation of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister”.  

Assange had taken shelter in the Ecuadorian embassy in June defying a British police order to turn himself in for extradition to Sweden.

The whistleblower, who invited the wrath of the United States after publishing secret diplomatic cables, has maintained that the allegations of sexual offences against him were politically motivated.

The former computer hacker has expressed apprehension that he would eventually be extradited to the US, where he could be tried for espionage.

WikiLeaks published over 2,50,000 confidential US diplomatic cables in 2010 that included information on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.