Assange's hopes of freedom dashed

NICK MILLER
Last updated 12:29 19/08/2014
Reuters

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cites health reasons for his decision to "soon" leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he's spent the last two years.

Julian Assange on August 18, 2014
Reuters
INSIDE: Julian Assange has been living inside the Ecuadorean Embassy for two years.

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The UK government has poured cold water on Julian Assange's hopes he will soon be able to leave the Ecuador embassy behind Harrods where he has spent the last two years.

In a press conference on Monday morning, London time, the WikiLeaks whistleblower said he hoped soon to walk out of the embassy due to legal changes in the UK's extradition laws.

Under the new laws a judge may bar an extradition request if there has not been a decision to charge or try the subject of the request.

However a Home Office spokeswoman told Fairfax Media the changes had come too late for Assange.

"He has exhausted all his avenues of appeal under the Extradition Act," the spokeswoman said. "The changes were not retrospective, so they don't apply."

Assange's legal team hoped that, even if they did not have a legal basis for a challenge, the change in the law may signal a change in the government's attitude. However the government has not yet given any indication of softening its position.

Teams of police keep a 24-hour guard outside the embassy.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman declined to confirm that Assange would be arrested as soon as he stepped out of the embassy, saying "we are not going to discuss that at this stage".

However he confirmed that the situation had not recently changed.

Assange was granted asylum in the embassy in June 2012 after failing to overturn a European arrest warrant issued by a Swedish court, approving his detention for questioning on claims of sexual assault.

The UK has refused to grant him safe passage out of the country. On leaving the embassy it is virtually certain he would be detained and sent to Sweden, where he fears he will then be extradited to the United States over his role in WikiLeaks.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office confirmed that "we are clear that our laws must be followed and Assange should be extradited to Sweden. As ever we look to Ecuador to help bring this difficult and costly situation to an end."

The UK hoped to find a diplomatic solution to this end, the spokesman said.
Reports have estimated the 24-hour police presence outside the embassy to cost between £7 million and £10 million (NZ$13.7 million to NZ$19.8 million).

Several reports claimed that Assange would be forced to leave the embassy due to his deteriorating health, however Assange seemed in reasonable health - apart from a persistent cough - at the press conference.

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- Sydney Morning Herald

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