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Ecuador offers political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Assange

08-16-2012 23:28 BJT

QUITO, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- Ecuador would offer political asylum to WikiLeaks website founder Julian Assange, who has sought refuge in the country's embassy in London, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said Thursday.

The decision came only one day after the British government threatened to storm the London embassy to arrest Assange. The British government has ordered Assange be extradited to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning about allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Patino said the Ecuadorian government would keep "loyal to its tradition to protect those who seek refuge with us at our diplomatic missions," he told a press conference.

He said the decision was made after Britain, Sweden and the United States refused to guarantee that Assange would not be extradited to the United States for trial over his release of a mass of classified U.S. documents.

Patino said Ecuador was worried, if Assange was extradited to the United States, he would not receive a fair trial, adding it was a "sovereign decision" protected by international law.

"Ecuador feels ... that he could be the victim of political persecution because of his decisive defense of the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press," he said.

Assange, who entered the London embassy on June 19 seeking political asylum, said Thursday the offer by Ecuador was a "significant victory."

Immediately after the announcement of the asylum offer, a spokeswoman with Britain's Foreign Office said Britain would continue to pursue its "obligation" to extradite Assange to Sweden despite Ecuador's decision.

"Under our law, with Mr. Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden," the spokeswoman said.

"We remain committed to a negotiated solution that allows us to carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act," she said.

Almost simultaneously, Sweden rejected Ecuador's claim that Assange would not face a fair trial.

"Our firm legal and constitutional system guarantees the rights of each and everyone. We firmly reject any accusations to the contrary," Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt posed on his Twitter account.

Assange's WikiLeaks website has enraged the United States by releasing tens of thousands of secret documents about the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was arrested in London in December 2010 on a warrant from Sweden and then released on a bail.

Before seeking refuge in Ecuador's London embassy, he stayed in a house close to the British capital.


Editor:Zheng Limin |Source: Xinhua

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