Ecuador 'open to talks' on Assange

 

Ecuador is ready to negotiate over the fate of Julian Assange if Britain withdraws a threat to raid its embassy in London where the WikiLeaks founder has sought refuge, President Rafael Correa said.

Ecuador was incensed by a veiled British threat to enter the embassy to arrest the 41-year-old former computer hacker, who is trying to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Mr Correa has offered Mr Assange asylum and told Britain to let him leave the embassy and fly to the South American country. The leftist leader said Mr Assange, who has been in the building for nine weeks, was welcome to stay there "indefinitely," but also said he was open to discussions.

"Despite that rude, impertinent and unacceptable remark we're still open to dialogue," Mr Correa told reporters in the coastal city of Guayaquil.

"We don't expect an apology, but of course we expect Britain to retract the extremely serious mistake they made when they issued the threat that they could violate our diplomatic mission to arrest Mr Julian Assange."

Foreign ministers from across Latin America broadly backed Quito's position as the government rallied regional support at a series of high-level meetings in Ecuador over the weekend.

Mr Correa says he shared Mr Assange's fears that from Sweden he could be further extradited to the United States and face charges there. His WikiLeaks website published a barrage of secret army documents and diplomatic cables in 2010 that exposed Washington's power-broking around the world.

Mr Correa has portrayed the saga as a struggle between a small country and "imperialist" powers, the United States and Britain.

Local analysts say that playing up the "colonial" angle helps burnish Mr Correa's anti-US credentials and could lift his ratings. It also plays well with his ally Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez, the biggest critic of Washington in the region.

Mr Correa, a 49-year-old economist, has become popular with many Ecuadoreans by building hospitals and schools, and for programs of cash handouts for the poor. He is well placed to win re-election next year if -  as widely expected - he runs.

Ecuador has said it might take the dispute over Assange to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

But it wants to convince London that it should let the Australian citizen travel to Ecuador, or give him written guarantees that he would not be extradited to the United States. Mr Correa's government says there have been no talks since August 15th.

Reuters