Police seek WikiLeaks founder Assange's arrest after asylum claim

Police seek Assange after asylum claim
Police seek Assange after asylum claim

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Story highlights

  • Assange "seems in good spirits" as he weighs options, supporter says
  • Delays have been "very frustrating" for his accusers, their attorney says
  • Assange is wanted for questioning on sexual assault allegations in Sweden
  • The WikiLeaks founder has fought extradition and now seeks asylum in Ecuador

Julian Assange is subject to arrest for breaking the terms of his bail, London's Metropolitan Police said Wednesday, after the WikiLeaks founder attempted to claim asylum at the embassy of Ecuador in Britain.

Assange was arrested in Britain in 2010 because Swedish authorities want to question him about allegations of rape and sexual molestation. His bail conditions included staying every night at the home of a supporter outside of London.

"He is now subject to arrest under the Bail Act for breach of these conditions," police said Wednesday morning. But it is not clear that they will be able to arrest him, since diplomatic protocol prevents authorities from entering foreign embassies.

Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Wednesday that its officials "have met with the Ecuadorian authorities to discuss this situation," but released no details.

Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian mission on Tuesday, five days after the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom last week dismissed a bid to reopen his appeal of extradition proceedings -- his last option in British courts. Assange supporter Gavin McFayden, who visited the WikiLeaks founder Wednesday, said he "seems in very good spirits."

"He seemed very grateful for the hospitality of the embassy," said McFayden, director of the Center for Investigative Journalism at London's City University. He said Assange is staying in a small room with a television, which McFayden called "not a luxurious accommodation" but added, "We've all had worse than that."

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Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks website, is interviewed in London on October 8, 2011.

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WikiLeaks founder speaks at Occupy London
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"They're talking with the lawyers now about what they want to do," he said.

Two women have accused Assange of sexually assaulting them during an August 2010 visit to Sweden in connection with a WikiLeaks release of internal U.S. military documents. He was arrested in Britain that December and has been fighting extradition ever since, arguing the allegations are retribution for his organization's disclosure of American secrets.

Claes Borgström, the Swedish lawyer who represents the women, said the past year and a half "has been very frustrating and a difficult time" for them.

"The frustration for the clients is that they have been waiting for so long already, almost two years now," Borgström told CNN. "And after the decision from the Supreme Court, they were convinced that Assange would be coming to Sweden." Now that he has sought asylum in Ecuador, "You don't know how long it will take."

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Assange's only further legal recourse would be to apply immediately to the European Court of Human Rights, and his attorneys have vowed to do so. He has said he fears that if he is extradited to Sweden, authorities there could hand him over to the United States, where he then could be prosecuted for his role in the leaking of classified documents.

Assange has not been charged with a crime, but Swedish prosecutors want to question him about allegations of "unlawful coercion and sexual misconduct including rape," according to a Supreme Court document. Ecuador said its decision to consider Assange's asylum request "should in no way be interpreted as the government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden."

WikiLeaks, which facilitates the anonymous leaking of secret information, has published some 250,000 confidential U.S. diplomatic cables, causing embarrassment to the government and others. It also has published hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents relating to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Recently, the organization has come under financial pressure, leading Assange to announce that WikiLeaks was temporarily stopping publication to focus on raising money. An announcement at the top of WikiLeaks' home page reads: "We are forced to put all our efforts into raising funds to ensure our economic survival."

During his wait for the Supreme Court to rule on his extradition, Assange has hosted a talk show on Russian TV. "The World Tomorrow" appears on the Kremlin-funded, pro-Russian network Russia Today. He hosted it from the Suffolk, England, mansion where he is under house arrest with an electronic bracelet monitoring his movements.

He has interviewed controversial figures at odds with the U.S. government, including Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, which the United States considers a terrorist organization, and Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, who railed against the United States in his interview with Assange.

In 2010, a statement from Ecuador's foreign ministry appeared to offer the controversial Assange an invitation to discuss a trove of leaked documents. The ministry also offered to process a request for residency, if Assange chose. But a later statement from the Ecuadorian Embassy in the United States said that was not the case.

"While there was some confusion in the media flowing out of Quito yesterday, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has clarified that his country has not invited WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange to Ecuador," the statement read.

In Ecuador, Correa said at the time that his country had not made a formal invitation to Assange and that the ministry declaration, made by Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas, was "spontaneous" and personal in nature.

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