Julian Assange: Ecuador Asylum Decision Criticised

The UK and Sweden have criticised Ecuador for granting political asylum to Julian Assange as the diplomatic row over what to do with him intensifies.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrives at the Supreme Court in London, in this February 1, 2012

The UK and Sweden have criticised Ecuador for granting political asylum to Julian Assange as the diplomatic row over what to do with him intensifies.

The Wikileaks founder took refuge at Ecuador's London embassy in June as he faced extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations which he denies.

The UK has said it will not allow him safe passage out of the country.

Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said he hoped talks with the UK would "overcome this".

He told BBC Mundo the UK should respect Ecuador's "sovereign decision" otherwise "we will use the alternatives under international law to demand the safe passage".

"We don't think it is reasonable that, after a sovereign government has made the decision of granting political asylum, a citizen is forced to live in an embassy for a long period," he added.

Ecuador says Mr Assange's human rights might be violated if he is sent to Sweden to be questioned over allegations that he sexually assaulted two female ex-Wikileaks volunteers while he was in Stockholm to give a lecture in 2010.

The Wikileaks website has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several countries, particularly the US.

The 41-year-old Australian citizen, who claims the sexual contact was consensual, says the allegations against him are politically motivated and he fears that, if extradited to Sweden, he will then be passed on to US authorities.

'Negotiated solution'

Mr Assange said that while Ecuador's decision was "a historic victory, our struggles have just begun", adding that "the unprecedented US investigation against Wikileaks must be stopped".

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said there was "no legal basis" to allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the country and warned that the case could go on for a "considerable" time.

The UK Foreign Office says it remains committed to reaching a "negotiated solution" but following its obligations under the Extradition Act, it would arrest Mr Assange if he left the embassy.

Ecuador had described as a "threat" a UK letter that drew attention to the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, which would enable it to potentially lift the embassy's diplomatic status to allow police to enter the building to arrest Mr Assange for breaching his bail terms.

However, the UK later said the letter's purpose was intended to clarify "all aspects of British law that Ecuador should be aware of" and it favoured a "mutually acceptable solution".

Sweden foreign ministry spokesman Anders Joerle said it was "unacceptable that Ecuador would want to halt the Swedish judicial process and European judicial co-operation".

He added that Sweden "emphatically reject the gross accusations that is made against the Swedish judicial system".

Meanwhile, the Organisation of American States called a special meeting at its Washington headquarters on Thursday to discuss the Ecuador-UK relationship, specifically Ecuador's diplomatic premises in the UK.

And the Union of South American Nations - which consists of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Uruguay - has convened an "extraordinary meeting" in Ecuador on Sunday to consider "the situation raised at the embassy".