NEWS
16/08/2012 09:30 BST | Updated 16/08/2012 12:27 BST

Julian Assange: Ecuador Grants WikiLeaks Founder Political Asylum

Ecuador has granted Julian Assange political asylum citing the possibility he could be subject to "cruel treatment" in a "third country."

The 40-year-old Australian hailed being granted political asylum by Ecuador as a "significant victory". He thanked staff in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been holed up for the past two months, but told them "things will get more stressful now."

It came after the UK government allegedly threatened to storm the embassy to arrest the WikiLeaks founder, who faces accusations of sex crimes in Sweden.

Ecuador's foreign minister Ricardo Patino warned entering the embassy would require a response with "greater diplomatic force." Patino said it would "be interpreted by Ecuador as a hostile and intolerable act and also as an attack on our sovereignty."

Police officers clashed with protesters in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

Announcing the decision about Assange, Patino said on Thursday the UK had "attacked" the country's right to grant asylum, adding it was unclear Assange could have a fair trial elsewhere.

"Ecuador is sure that there is a real threat of him being extradited to a third country, without any guarantees. He would be subject to cruel treatment," he said.

“We believe that his fears are legitimate and there are the threats that he could face political persecution."

"We trust that our friendship with the United Kingdom will remain intact," he added.

In light of the decision, the British government said it would carry out its obligation to extradite Assange.

An official at the embassy said the threat to arrest Assange inside the building had "significant implications" for every country in the world, taking diplomatic relations back to the "Dark Ages".

"It is not in our interest to hold him here indefinitely - nor is in Mr Assange's interest.

"We have been seeking guarantees that, if he goes to Sweden and faces investigation, he will not be subjected to a further extradition to the United States. At this point Ecuador wants to protect Mr Assange from the threat to his life."

But Sir Christopher Meyer told The Huffington Post UK he was unsure if the Ecuadorians had "thought through what they've done."

"He'll be there forever. He can't get out without being arrested."

Julian Assange has been staying in the embassy for the past two months

Earlier three demonstrators outside the embassy were arrested. Scuffles broke out between protesters and police, while one man could be seen escorted away by officers, shouting "You're about to start a war with Ecuador."

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 Ggovernment 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."

Police officers outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London on Wednesday night

But 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".

Assange sought refuge in Ecuador's embassy in a bid to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sexual assault.

Under international law, diplomatic posts are considered the territory of the foreign nation.

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

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."

Paul Milligan, 19, from Kentish Town, north London, said: "I heard about this at 1am and walked here to protest.

"If Britain is essentially about to invade Ecuador, then I want to have a say about that.

"If they load him in a police van to try to bring him out, I intend to sit in front of the van and obstruct it in any way I can."

Farhan Rasheed, 42, a historian, from Norbury, south London, said: "I turned up at about 6 o'clock. I'm here on the basis that you have to respect the Vienna Convention. If we go against other people's diplomatic immunity, that puts our own diplomats at risk around the world. It would be an own goal.

"One can't lecture Iran and other countries about the treatment of our diplomats if we behave in that way."

He said he would also be willing to sit in front of a police van if necessary.

At a briefing inside on Thursday, Ecuadorian officials described the move as "complete intimidation".

Assange said later: "I am grateful to the Ecuadorian people, President Rafael Correa and his government.

"It was not Britain or my home country, Australia, that stood up to protect me from persecution, but a courageous, independent Latin American nation.

"While today is a historic victory, our struggles have just begun.

"The unprecedented US investigation against WikiLeaks must be stopped."

"While today much of the focus will be on the decision of the Ecuadorian government, it is just as important that we remember Bradley Manning has been detained without trial for over 800 days.

"The task of protecting WikiLeaks, its staff, its supporters and its alleged sources continues."

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