Britain says it will not grant Julian Assange safe passage

 

Britain will not give WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange safe passage out of the country and is determined to extradite him to Sweden, foreign secretary William Hague said today.

Ecuador's decision to grant Mr Assange political asylum today should not be used as a way for him to escape the legal process, Mr Hague added.

"We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so," Mr Hague told a news conference in London.

"The United Kingdom does not recognise the principle of diplomatic asylum."

The situation could go on for a considerable time and there is no threat to storm the Ecuadorian embassy in London where Mr Assange is holed up, Mr Hague said.

Mr Assange will give a live statement in front of Ecuador's embassy on Sunday afternoon, a spokesman said this evening.

"Julian Assange will give a live statement in front of the Ecuadorian embassy, Sunday, 2 p.m. ," WikiLeaks said in a message on Twitter. "It will be his first public appearance since March."

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson declined to elaborate on the short message and would not say if the appearance would be at an embassy window or on the pavement.

"I cannot go into details at this time for security reasons," he said.

The former computer hacker, who enraged Washington in 2010 when his WikiLeaks website published secret US diplomatic cables, is wanted in Sweden where he has been accused of rape and sexual assault.

However, Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patino said today that it would assist Mr Assange to settle in its country.

"Ecuador has decided to grant political asylum to Julian Assange following the request sent to the president," Mr Patino told a press conference in Quito earlier today.

He argued that Mr Assange's personal security was at risk, extradition to a third country without proper guarantees was probable, and legal evidence showed he would not have a fair trial if eventually transferred to the US.

"This is a sovereign decision protected by international law. It makes no sense to surmise that this implies a breaking of relations (with Britain)," Mr Patino added.

There has been speculation Mr Assange could travel to an airport in a diplomatic car, be smuggled out in a diplomatic bag, or even be appointed an Ecuadorean diplomat to give him immunity. But lawyers and diplomats see those scenarios as practically unworkable.

The diplomatic standoff over Mr Assange escalated earlier this week after Ecuador claimed Britain threatened to raid its embassy in London if Quito did not hand over the WikiLeaks founder, who has been taking refuge there for two months.

Britain yesterday told Ecuador that giving Mr Assange asylum would not change anything and that it was too early to say whether it would revoke the diplomatic status of Quito's embassy to allow the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder.

The Ecuadorean government said a raid on its embassy would be considered a "hostile and intolerable act" as well as a violation of its sovereignty.

"The move announced in the official British statement, if it happens, would be interpreted by Ecuador as an unfriendly, hostile and intolerable act, as well as an attack on our sovereignty, which would force us to respond in the strongest diplomatic way,"  Mr Patino told reporters.

Ecuador, whose government is part of a left-leaning bloc of nations in South America, called for meetings of regional foreign ministers and the hemispheric Organization of American States to rally support in its complaint against Britain.

"We are deeply shocked by British government's threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorean Embassy and their suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy," the mission said on its website. "This is a clear breach of international law and the protocols set out in the Vienna Convention."

The embassy, near London's famed Harrods department store, was under tight surveillance today, with a number of police officers manning the entrance and several others patrolling around the red-brick building.

A group of Assange supporters who responded to a rallying call by WikiLeaks on Twitter gathered outside to demand Mr Assange's freedom and streamed the scene live on the Internet. "

The Australian former hacker has been in the embassy for eight weeks since losing a legal battle to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he has been accused of rape and sexual assault by two WikiLeaks supporters.

Swedish prosecutors have not yet charged Mr Assange, but they have moved forward with their investigations and they believe they have a case to take to trial.

Reuters