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Demonstrators Arrested Outside Ecuadorian Embassy As Row Erupts Over Political Asylum For Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange

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Three demonstrators outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London have been arrested as a diplomatic row threatens to erupt over whether the country will grant political asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Scuffles broke out between protesters and police, whilst one man could be seen escorted away by officers, shouting "You're about to start a war with Ecuador."

A Met Police spokesman told the Huffington Post UK: "Just after 11am an officer arrested three people involved in a demonstration outside the Ecuadorian embassy in Hans Crescent SW1."

police arrest

Scuffles between police and protesters outside the embassy have led to arrests

Although a reason for the arrests has not yet been given, an Associated Press journalist said the protesters were taken away by police after refusing to move across the street from the embassy entrance.

Tension has escalated between Ecudaor and the UK after the British government threatened to enter the Ecuadorian embassy in London and arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, risking a rift with the country, according to foreign minister Ricardo Patino.

Ecuador's Patino released details of a letter he said was delivered through a British embassy official in the capital of the South American country, Quito, which claimed there was a "legal base" to "take actions in order to arrest Assange in the current premises of the Embassy."

The decision on whether Ecuador will grant Assange political asylum is expected to be announced on Thursday morning.

police arrest

Police have made three arrests so far

The Foreign Office denied they were making threats, saying they had a legal obligation to extradite Assange. They have said they will not guarantee the journalist safe passage.

The development came two months after Assange suddenly walked into the embassy in a bid to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sexual assault.

Sir Tony Brenton, the UK's former ambassador to Russia, said the Foreign Office may have "overreached themselves" and could risk breaching international law as well as making life "impossible" for those working in embassies.

"The government itself has no interest in creating a situation where it is possible for governments everywhere to arbitrarily cut off diplomatic immunity. It would be very bad," he said.

"If the Russians had had the power and simply walked into the embassy and simply arrested someone, we would have been in much more insecurity."

The Foreign Office says the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 permits the revocation of diplomatic status of a building if the foreign power occupying it "ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post".

"Instead of threatening violence against the Ecuadorian Embassy, the British Government should use its energy to find a peaceful resolution to this situation which we are aiming to achieve."

The British government's letter to Ecuador added: "We need to reiterate that we consider the continued use of the diplomatic premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna Convention and unsustainable and we have made clear the serious implications that this has for our diplomatic relations."

But a police source said of whether they would storm the embassy: "It's all ifs, buts and maybes at the moment."

Assange denies the allegations against him, but fears he will be sent to the United States if he goes to Sweden.

An offer to the Swedish authorities by Ecuador for investigators to interview Assange inside the London embassy was rejected.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman denied a threat was being made.

The spokeswoman said: "We have consistently made our position clear in our discussions with the government of Ecuador.

"The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences and we remain determined to fulfil this obligation.

"We have an obligation to extradite Assange and it is only right that we give Ecuador the full picture.

"Throughout this process we have drawn the Ecuadorians' attention to relevant provisions of our law, whether, for example, the extensive human rights safeguards in our extradition procedures, or the legal status of diplomatic premises in the UK.

"We are still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution."

In response to the row a Wikileaks spokesperson called for the resignation of William Hague, saying: "We note with interest that this development coincides with the UK Secretary of State William Hague’s assumption of executive responsibilities during the vacation of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.

"Mr Hague’s department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has overseen the negotiations to date with Ecuador in the matter of Mr Assange’s asylum bid.

"If Mr Hague has, as would be expected, approved this decision, WikiLeaks calls for his immediate resignation."

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