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Sat Aug 18, 2012 2:10AM
British police officers stand guard outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 .

British police officers stand guard outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 .

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa says that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will stay in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London as long as Britain refuses to grant him safe passage out of the country. "The problem is that they aren't going to give him the safe conduct," Correa said in a radio interview on Friday, AFP reported. "Mr. Assange can stay indefinitely in our embassy,” he stated, in his first public comments since his foreign minister announced on Thursday that the 41-year-old Australian activist would be granted asylum. In an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden, Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on June 19 and applied for political asylum. Assange had embarked on a marathon round of court battles but finally exhausted all his options under British law in June when the Supreme Court rejected his appeal against extradition. On Thursday, British officials said they would arrest him the moment he stepped out of the sanctuary since the government must extradite him according to the country’s laws. The Ecuadorian president acknowledged that European law was "a bit different" than Latin American legal practice, which Correa said requires the country where the embassy is situated to "obligatorily grant safe conduct." In addition, Correa said that Britain had threatened to storm the Ecuadorian Embassy to seize Assange. "A couple of days ago we received… the threat, not even a veiled threat but explicit and in writing, that they could come into our embassy under their domestic laws." Although diplomatic premises are sacrosanct in international law, still "that possibility exists according to what the United Kingdom itself expressed," he added. The WikiLeaks founder was accused of committing rape and other sexual crimes in Sweden after the whistleblower made US “secret” and “top secret” documents publicly available on the website, despite intense efforts by US officials to stop him. Assange has maintained that he is innocent and claims the allegations against him are politically motivated. He says that if he is extradited to Sweden, the authorities there could hand him over to the United States, where he could be prosecuted for his role in leaking classified documents. Assange gained international prominence in 2010 when WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables, which embarrassed the US government. The website has also published hundreds of thousands of classified US documents relating to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. GJH/HGL
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