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Ecuador considers Assange asylum request

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Sat June 23, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: AN ex-diplomat says Assange has put both Britain and Ecuador in a tricky situation
  • The WikiLeaks founder has fought extradition and seeks asylum in Ecuador
  • London police say Assange violated the conditions of his bail
  • Police say he will be arrested if he leaves the Ecuadorian Embassy

London (CNN) -- Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa says he is carefully considering Julian Assange's petition for asylum and suggested that charges against the WikiLeaks' founder could be political persecution.

"We cannot accept a political persecution for the ideas Mr. Assange expressed," Correa told reporters Thursday.

"If he has committed any type of crime through WikiLeaks, then let those charges be brought forth. It is very strange that the current charges are of a completely different nature."

Assange is seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of rape and other sex crimes. He has been arrested in absentia, Swedish prosecutors have said.

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He was arrested in Britain in 2010 because Swedish authorities wanted 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 went to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Tuesday to seek asylum.

On Thursday, Metropolitan Police said he violated the conditions of his bail and would be arrested if he leaves the embassy.

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

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.

Assange sought refuge at the embassy five days after the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom dismissed a bid to reopen his appeal of the decision to send him to Sweden -- his last option in British courts.

British officials have met with Ecuadorian authorities, but no information has been released about those meetings.

It is unclear when Ecuador will make a decision on Assange's asylum request.

"We are analyzing the different aspects of his request for asylum and we will take the necessary amount of time and we will make our decision at the appropriate time," Correa said.

Some of Assange's supporters believe that if he is sent to Sweden he would be vulnerable to extradition to the United States, where they fear he could potentially face the death penalty.

"Ecuador is a country that rejects the death penalty and we can't risk that a person who petitions us for asylum be subjected to the death penalty for political reasons," Correa said, reflecting that concern.

Paul Whiteway, a former British Foreign Office diplomat who now heads the London office of Independent Diplomat, a non-profit advisory group on diplomacy, said Assange is in a very difficult situation.

"There will be negotiations between the Ecuadorian authorities and the British government, the Foreign Office, to find a way of resolving this standoff," Whiteway said.

But despite the discussions behind closed doors, he said, a diplomatic resolution will not necessarily come quickly.

"It's clearly an unwelcome situation for (the British), and really quite unlooked for. But I don't think it's particularly welcome for the government of Ecuador either."

Correa's language has so far been very careful, Whiteway said, and it's clear that both Ecuador and Britain recognize the sensitivity of the issue.

"Ecuador also has to take into account the attitude of the government of Sweden, because the Swedes will clearly also be quite concerned about what has happened," he said.

CNN's Kevin Gallagher and Nima Elbagir contributed to this report.

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