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Julian Assange Says He Will Leave Ecuadorian Embassy 'Soon' After Reports Of Ill-Health

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Julian Assange has said he will leave the Ecuadorian Embassy "soon", after reportedly falling ill in his two years hiding there to avoid arrest and extradition.

Assange was speaking at a press conference this morning after Sky News reported he was considering surrendering to police, meaning he would be extradited to Sweden to face rape charges.

He has claimed the extradition would see him removed to the US to face prosecution over Wikileaks' publication of warlogs and diplomatic cables that shook the international establishment.

Though he was eventually granted asylum in Ecuador, he has been unable to leave the embassy to take it up as Metropolitan Police officers have guarded it since Assange entered and will arrest him if makes any attempt to leave.

Now, he suffers from a heart defect, a lack of vitamin D and a chronic lung condition after 26 months of confinement, it has been reported.

He told reporters: "I will be leaving the embassy soon but perhaps not for the reasons the Murdoch Press and Sky News are saying at the moment."

He declined to elaborate when asked.

Wikileaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said he would leave "when the circumstances are right" but said his departure was "not imminent" and denied he would hand himself into police.

He added: "(Assange) is ready to leave at any moment as soon as the ridiculous siege outside will stop and he is offered safe passage.”

Hrafnsson made clear the rumours of Assange's imminent departure were not true.

"The world is not coming to an end," he told reporters inside the embassy. "The plan, as always, is to leave as soon as the UK Government decides to honour its obligations in relation to international agreements."

julian assange

Assange at his press conference this morning with Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino

Extradition lawyer Julian Knowles told HuffPost UK he believed Assange was "giving up" and would surrender to the police to be arrested and extradited, adding there was nothing on the horizon to give Assange hope he would walk out the embassy a free man.

"He's had enough. The Ecuadorians have had enough," he said. "I can't think of anything that would allow him to leave soon."

He added Assange's remarks were "spin" done out of "pride and performance".

The press conference and comments prompted a large gathering of journalists, police and fans outside the embassy, as witnessed by HuffPostUK reporter Louise Ridley who is at the scene.

She said around 200 people were gathered outside the building, though there were only three additional police officers on duty in addition to the regular embassy guard.

Before the press conference, Sky News had reported Assange was considering handing himself in to police.

Assange's announcement follows speculation that he was planning to leave to seek hospital treatment for heart and lung problems.

He described the "difficulty" of living inside a small room, which he said would affect any "healthy person".

Last week, he lost a legal bid to have the arrest warrant against him cancelled. The decision by Judge Lena Egelin dashed hopes of a breakthrough in his case.

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Assange told journalists there has been "no movement at all" in the Swedish investigation and said the Ecuadorian government and his legal team were the only "reasonable" parties" involved in the case.

During the press conference, Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patino said: "It is time to free Julian Assange. It is time for his human rights to be finally respected."

He said there has been two years of "great uncertainty" and described them as "two lost years for everyone".

Patino said the Ecuador government will try to meet new foreign secretary Philip Hammond in a bid to break the deadlock, adding changes to the UK's extradition laws created a better climate for reaching a deal.

"Over the coming weeks I will be trying out set up a meeting with the UK foreign secretary," he said. "We believe that the recent reforms create a better climate for us to try to reach an agreement."

Assange gave an interview to the Mail On Sunday at the weekend, in which it was reported he feared being arrested if he sought treatment.

"He would come round handcuffed to his hospital bed," a source told the paper.

He told the tabloid: "I have not seen my mother for two years, nor my grandmother, who is 87. In the time I have been in the embassy, both my stepfather and my grandfather have died.

"I am a man in my early 40s and most people will understand that means playing a supportive role in an extended family, being the person others rely on instead of worrying about.

"I am being denied that, and by extension so are they."

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A Foreign Office spokesman told The Huffington Post UK: "We remain as committed as ever to reaching a diplomatic solution to this situation.

"We are clear that our laws must be followed and Mr Assange should be extradited to Sweden.

"As ever we look to Ecuador to help bring this difficult, and costly, residence to an end."

"I do not think there is a will [in Britain] to find a solution," Patino told the journalists.

"The British government hasn't taken any steps in that direction. We have made proposals, we have submitted documents, and all we have seen on the part of the British government is an increase in security to make sure Julian Assange does not leave the embassy, but there has been no political will or any steps taken towards a diplomatic solution to this.

"Everyone around the world knows that the rights of Julian Assange have been violated."




WE USED TO BE FRIENDS: ASSANGE BACKERS AND ENEMIES
  • Still Friends: Vaughan Smith
    Soldier turned journalist Vaughan Smith lost the £12,000 he put up as surety for Assange's bail when he sought refuge in Ecuador's embassy. Smith also put the Wikileaks founder up at his Norfolk estate for more than a year while Assange's legal challenge to extradition went through the courts. Smith said he was "shocked" at Assange's flight to the embassy and was "troubled" by the loss of the money but stood by his old friend. He told ITV: "It's a considerable sum and I don't think there are many people who could afford to lose that amount of money. "It's a balance between Julian's interests and my family's interests, but at least my family aren't facing extradition or a life sentence, so I feel that now is not the time to abandon Julian as a friend. "I'm convinced that Julian really believes that if he is sent to Sweden he will be sent to the US. I don't know whether that's true but if he were that would obviously be perilous."
  • Still Friends: John Pilger
    The most aggressive supporter of Julian Assange is also just about the only journalist he has not ended up hating. John Pilger has kept the faith over Assange and repeatedly, publicly defended him and attacked his critics. He attacked Wikileaks documentary We Steal Secrets as "abusive". When Wikileaks was described as an Assange cult, he wrote a piece saying "Assange hate is the real cult." When former close supporter Jemima Khan distanced herself from Assange, Pilger claimed she had "ended her support for an epic struggle for justice, truth and freedom".
  • Still Friends: Ken Loach
    The film director has been relatively tight-lipped about Assange but we think there's ample evidence he's still a fan. Loach has compared the noble hero of his latest film, Jimmy's Hall, to the Wikileaks founder. The film is the story of an Irishman who reopens a community hall in his village so everyone can dance and discuss left-wing politics to their heart's content, incurring the wrath of nearly everyone in authority. The Telegraph's two-star review called it "exasperatingly thin".
  • Still Friends: Phillip Knightley
    Ok, so weren't quite right when we said Pilger was the only journalist Assange had not fallen out with. Phillip Knightley, the legendary investigative reporter who lost £15,000 when Assange skipped bail, said he did not regret it at all and said Assange sought asylum only after "exhausting every other possible remedy" He said: "I'm not worried about my commitment. I would do it again. He's an Australian and he deserves my compatriot's support. He's been treated terribly by the British and Swedish justice systems and I think he's the victim of a conspiracy."
  • Drifted Apart: Birgitta Jonsdottir
    The Icelandic MP and Assange have drifted apart and no longer speak but, as they did not have a huge public falling out, we think they still count as friends by Assange's standards. Jonsdottir has passionately defended Wikileaks and said Assange has "every reason" to fear extradition to America if he goes to Sweden. She told The New Republic: "I am not speaking with Julian, I haven’t spoken with him for a while. ... I left Wikileaks a long time ago and our friendship soured, so I’m just doing my thing and he’s doing his."
  • Frenemy: Andrew O'Hagan
    The first of our ex-Team Assange people. If you're going to piss people off, don't piss off your mild-mannered ghost writer who will write a 26,000 word essay about how difficult you are. O'Hagan's piece described the nightmarish experience of trying to get Assange to put in the legwork into his autobiography, which O'Hagan was meant to ghostwrite after Assange received a six-figure advance. He wrote: "The man who put himself in charge of disclosing the world's secrets simply couldn't bear his own. The story of his life mortified him and sent him scurrying for excuses. He didn't want to do the book. He hadn't from the beginning." The fiasco ended with the publisher putting out a draft of the autobiography, after Assange stopped co-operating, and dubbed it his "unauthorised autobiography".
  • Friend Turned Foe: Jemima Khan
    Jemima Khan, The associate editor of the New Statesman, lost £20,000 she put up for Assange's bail. She wrote a piece attacking him, saying he had "alienated" his allies. She said: "WikiLeaks... has been guilty of the same obfuscation and misinformation as those it sought to expose, while its supporters are expected to follow, unquestioningly, in blinkered, cultish devotion." She compared Assange to the founder of Scientology, saying: "It would be a tragedy if a man who has done so much good were to end up tolerating only disciples and unwavering devotion, more like an Australian L Ron Hubbard."
  • Friends Turned Foes: Everyone In The British And American Press Wikileaks Has Worked With
    Assange loathes The New York Times and The Guardian, the two principal media partners that helped Wikileaks get the story about the atrocities of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars out to a large raudience. At one point, Assange threatened The Guardian with legal action over the publication of the cables. Then editor of the New York Times Bill Keller called him "arrogant and thin-skinned". The Guardian's Nick Davies was a particular focus of his ire, especially after he reported leaked details of the rape case against Assange that awaits him, if he ever sets foot in the country.
  • Friend Turned Foe: Daniel Domscheit-Berg
    The former Wikileaks spokesman fell out with Assange about the direction of the organisation and their public spat has continued ever since. Domscheit-Berg's memoir of his time with Assange became the basis for the feature film The Fifth Estate, which Assange vehemently attacked. He wrote the film was a "massive propaganda attack". It depicts Domscheit-Berg as an integral player in Wikileaks but Assange played down his role in the group, saying it was minimal. He said of the film: "How does this have anything to do with us? It is a lie upon lie. The movie is a massive propaganda attack on WikiLeaks and the character of my staff."