Assange will only leave London embassy if ‘siege lifted’

Wikileaks founder, facing extradition, likely to be arrested as soon as he exits building

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, acknowledges his health has suffered after spending two years inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, saying he will leave "soon" but refuses to clarify exactly when that will be. Video: Reuters

Mon, Aug 18, 2014, 14:06

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will only leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London the British government “calls off the siege outside”.

Mr Assange had earlier said he would “soon” leave the embassy, where he has sought asylum for more than two years in a bid to avoid extradition.

Mr Assange faces arrest the moment he steps outside the building, where police officers have been stationed since he arrived.

He believes that if he is extradited to Sweden, where there is a warrant against him over alleged sexual offences against two women, he will then be sent on to the United States for questioning over the activities of the whistle-blowing organisation.

“I can confirm I will be leaving the embassy soon,” he said, during a press conference at the embassy this morning alongside Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patino.

However, his spokesman played down the chances of an imminent departure, saying the British government would first need to revise its position and let him leave without arrest, something it has repeatedly refused to do.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, his spokesman, told reporters that he could only do so if the British government “calls off the siege outside”.

The 43-year-old Australian said his decision to leave was not for reasons “reported by the Murdoch press” but did not elaborate. The announcement follows speculation that he was planning to leave to seek hospital treatment for heart and lung problems.

Today he mentioned the “difficulty” of living inside a small room, which he said would affect any “healthy person”.

Last week he lost a legal bid to have the arrest warrant against him cancelled. The decision by Judge Lena Egelin dashed hopes of a breakthrough in his case.

Mr Assange told journalists there has been “no movement at all” in the Swedish investigation and said the Ecuadorian government and his legal team were the only “reasonable” parties involved in the case.

WikiLeaks began releasing thousands of confidential US documents on the internet in 2010, which embarrassed the United States. Some critics say the move put US national security and people’s lives at risk.

Ecuador later granted Mr Assange political asylum but he was unable to leave Britain and has ended up living in the embassy’s quarters in central London.

Britain’s foreign office said it remained as committed as ever to reaching a diplomatic solution to the problem, but reiterated that Mr Assange still needed to be extradited. “As ever we look to Ecuador to help bring this difficult, and costly, situation to an end,” a spokeswoman said.

The Assange issue has put Britain and Ecuador at odds, with London angered by the decision of Ecuador’s socialist president Rafael Correa to grant him asylum and Quito unhappy at the British refusal to allow him safe passage.

PA