Ecuador seeks regional support over Assange row


ECUADOR HAS embarked on a diplomatic offensive as it seeks to rally support of Latin American states in its stand-off with Britain over the fate of Julian Assange.

The government in Quito has called emergency meetings of three regional bodies in the Americas, where it hopes to win backing for its decision to grant the WikiLeaks founder asylum and condemnation of Britain’s threat to strip Ecuador’s London embassy of its diplomatic immunity in order to arrest him on foot of a Swedish extradition warrant.

Ecuador’s decision to grant Mr Assange asylum has provoked a furious diplomatic response from Britain and Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual assaults.

The Australian walked into the Ecuadorean embassy on June 19th, claiming he risked extradition to the US should Britain send him to Sweden. Mr Assange claims he is at risk of persecution by US authorities after his publication of secret US diplomatic cables.

The permanent council of the Organisation of American States was to meet last night to debate a request by Ecuador that foreign ministers of the 35-member regional body meet next week “to address the threats by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland against the state of Ecuador and its diplomatic premises in that country”.

At a session on Thursday, only the US and Canada opposed calls for the debate, which was backed by most Latin American countries including Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil, in a signal of regional discomfort at any plans to revoke the diplomatic status of Ecuador’s London embassy.

Foreign ministers from the 12-member Union of South American Nations (Unasur) are due to meet tomorrow in the Ecuadorean city of Guayquil to formulate a response to what Quito sees as the British threat to its embassy.

Ecuador is assured of strong backing for its stance from the gathering of foreign ministers of the left-wing regional trade bloc Alba, to be held in Guayquil ahead of the Unasur meeting.

The bloc, which includes Venezuela and Cuba, issued a statement on Thursday expressing its members’ “categorical rejection” of Britain’s “threats” against Ecuador’s embassy, claiming they violated the Geneva Convention and warned Britain of grave consequences for its relations in the region if it carried them out.

Ecuador said on Thursday it had granted Mr Assange asylum after it accepted his argument that he could be the victim of a political prosecution “as a consequence of his determined defence of freedom of expression and freedom of the press”.

Washington had refused to respond to Ecuadorean requests to declare whether it planned to prosecute Mr Assange or seek his extradition over his publication of its diplomatic cables.