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Ecuador grants Assange asylum

MEGAN LEVY AND PHILIP DORLING
Last updated 09:23 15/08/2012
Ecuador's president Rafael Correa
Reuters
RE-ELECTED: Ecuador's president Rafael Correa.

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WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange will be granted political asylum in Ecuador, according to an official in the South American country, British media is reporting.

The Australian, who is wanted in Sweden over sexual assault allegations, has been holed up at Ecuador's London embassy since June 19, when he officially requested political asylum.

Officials within Ecuador's government told The Guardian newspaper in London that president Rafael Correa had agreed to give Assange asylum.

"Ecuador will grant asylum to Julian Assange," an official in Ecuador's capital Quito told the newspaper.

However it remains unclear if granting Assange asylum will allow him to fly from London to Ecuador, as Assange faces the prospect of arrest as soon as he leaves the embassy for breaching his bail conditions.

"For Mr Assange to leave England, he should have a safe pass from the British [government]. Will that be possible? That's an issue we have to take into account," Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patiño told Reuters.

Government sources in Quito told The Guardian that the offer of asylum - a move which would annoy Britain, the US and Sweden - was made to Assange several months ago, before he sought refuge in the embassy, and following confidential negotiations with senior London embassy staff.

The British government had "discouraged the idea," while the Swedish government was also "not very collaborative", the official told the newspaper.

"We see Assange's request as a humanitarian issue," the official said.

"The contact between the Ecuadorean government and WikiLeaks goes back to May 2011, when we became the first country to see the leaked US embassy cables completely declassified ... It is clear that when Julian entered the embassy there was already some sort of deal. We see in his work a parallel with our struggle for national sovereignty and the democratisation of international relations."

President Correa yesterday confirmed that reports on Assange's asylum application "are ready" and will be reviewed at a meeting between himself and senior Ecuadorean officials in Quito later today.

"Hopefully, no later than Wednesday, [we will] have the meeting and hopefully this week we have a statement," Correa said in television interview.

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Assange sought political asylum at the Ecuadorean embassy in London on June 19 after his final appeal against extradition to Sweden was rejected by Britain's highest court.

Assange fears extradition to Sweden to face questioning about sexual assault allegations will facilitate his ultimate extradition to the US on espionage charges arising from the leaking of classified US military and diplomatic reports.

Speaking to Fairfax Media shortly before Correa made his comments yesterday, Assange described his asylum application as "a long process that's involved much work" and said he still had "no idea" what the outcome would be.

"I'm hopeful there will be a positive decision," he said.

Patino yesterday confirmed that President Correa would personally determine the outcome of Assange's application.

"The president will decide ... We will have a meeting with the president to give information of what we have done. We have done a lot, we talked with Britain, we talked to Sweden," Patino told a news conference on Monday.

Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr said yesterday that the Australian government had no interest in Correa's consideration of Assange's asylum application.

"That's a matter between him and Julian Assange," Carr said.

"I'd just say again - if America were interested in Julian Assange they could have sought his extradition from the UK at any time in the last two years."

-The Age

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