The Ecuadorian government this morning backed the asylum request by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange who has been residing over the past eight weeks in the South American country's embassy in London, England:
At a press conference in Quito, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino noted several reasons influencing the decision. One of them included fears of "retaliation" against Assange due to his role in the divulging of sensitive government documents via Wikileaks. Patino also argued that Assange would "not receive a fair trial" should he be extradited to the U.S. where he could face a military trial.
Patino reiterated his ire yesterday over allegations that British authorities would "assault our embassy" in order to detain Assange.
The British government has threatened with revoking the diplomatic status of the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to permit Assange to be extradited to Sweden. (The Australian-born Assange faces questioning in Sweden for alleged sexual misconduct.)
According to several news reports London police have arrested three people outside of the embassy where supporters of the Wikileaks founder have gathered.
More on this story after the page break.
Update (11:00 AM): "Gracias a Ecuador y ustedes" ("Thanks to Ecuador and all of you") tweeted Assange shortly after the Ecuadorian government granted him political asylum.
Meanwhile the British Foreign Office issued a statement expressing its "disappointment" over this morning's events.
"Under our law, with Mr. Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden. We shall carry out that obligation. The Ecuadorian Government's decision this afternoon does not change that," read part of the communique.
Patino claimed earlier today that "Ecuador wanted to have an interview with Sweden because we didnt want to intervene with what was happening there, but they refused our request. They wanted guarantees that Assange would not be extradited to the US, but they refused to give us any."
"Our firm legal and constitutional system guarantees the rights of each and everyone," said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt via his Twitter account in response to Patino's remarks. In a separate tweet Bildt linked to a Freedom House report denouncing the treatment of Ecuador's press by President Rafael Correa.
Kristinn Hrafnsson, a spokesman for Wikileaks, said that he was "delighted" with the asylum decision and that Ecuador refused to "bow to the intimidation and bullying by the UK." Hrafnsson also noted in an interview with the AFP that he hoped that British authorities "are sensible enough not to enter the embassy without permission, which would risk upsetting diplomatic relations all over the world."
Update (1:00 PM): The British government will not allow safe passage of Assange out of the country according to Foreign Secretary William Hague.
"We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of
the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so,"
said Hague at a news conference this afternoon. "The United Kingdom does not recognize the principle of diplomatic asylum."
Hague added that Britain has a "binding obligation" to extradite Assange to Sweden where he is accused of sexual misconduct. Hague also denied claims that Britain is secretly negotiating sending the Wikileaks founder to the U.S.
Online Sources (including Updates) - CBC News, The Telegraph, Reuters, Twitter, British Foreign Office, AFP, ITV News
Video Source - YouTube via Associated Press