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Media circus descends on Assange's embassy hide out

By Sheena McKenzie, CNN
updated 1:58 PM EDT, Thu August 16, 2012
 A document that says that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is to be arrested in any circumstances if he comes out of the Embassy of Ecuador is seen on a police officer's clipboard. (Editor's note: Part of the document has been pixelated by Press Association news agency.) A document that says that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is to be arrested in any circumstances if he comes out of the Embassy of Ecuador is seen on a police officer's clipboard. (Editor's note: Part of the document has been pixelated by Press Association news agency.)
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The modest Ecuador Embassy has become the site of a media circus
  • Julian Assange supporters scuffle with police and pump revolutionary anthems
  • Perplexed shoppers from nearby Harrods side-step the gathered TV crews
  • Twitter lights up with support, government lines, and gags

London (CNN) -- Outside a modest redbrick block behind the Harrods department store in west London, a media circus is taking place.

Well-to-do shoppers laden with bags side-step the TV crews clogging the pavement, asking what all the fuss is about.

This is no ordinary apartment block but the Ecuadorian Embassy where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has just been granted asylum in that country and is holed up inside the building.

Assange supporters sport 'V for Vendetta' masks and pump revolutionary anthems including Rage Against the Machine's "We are Legion" and Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up."

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Scuffles broke out earlier between campaigners and police officers, captured on film by 10 times as many cameramen and watched by handfuls of resigned-looking residents.

Reporters pack the alleyway beside the building, in case Assange makes a bid for freedom in a getaway car. But CNN's Atika Shubert at the scene says this is the same alleyway used by Harrods' delivery trucks.

The Australian sought refuge at the embassy on June 19 in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning over accusations he sexually assaulted two women.

Explaining the reasons for granting asylum, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño said Thursday there is credible fear that if Assange is sent to Sweden, he could be subsequently extradited to the United States, where he could be charged with espionage and treason.

Assange published thousands of secret U.S. government documents in 2010.

We know he is still tweeting. At 2.30pm London time he posted his thanks to the Ecuador Government in Spanish: "Gracias a Ecuador y ustedes."

He may have seen supporting tweets from across the world, such as that from documentary filmmaker Michael Moore who urged campaigners to rise up: "OccupyWallSt calls for people to head over to British consulate in NYC now 2 protest UK threat to raid Ecuador embassy."

The British Government insists the UK still has a legal obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden.

As the British Foreign Office tweeted: "We are disappointed by the statement from Ecuador's Foreign Minister that #Ecuador has offered political asylum to Julian #Assange."

It is a sentiment that prompted the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño to hit back: "We are not a British colony. Those times are passed."

Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt however, remained pragmatic, posting: "Our firm legal and constitutional system guarantees the rights of each and everyone. We firmly reject any accusations to the contrary."

Meanwhile, the Assange gags continue to roll in on social media. Photos of taxi drivers apparently called to the Ecuadorian Embassy with signs to pick up one Julian Assange have been retweeted hundreds of times.

Then there's Darth Vadar, who joked on Twitter: "Ecuador gave WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange assylum. Apparently, Wookieeleaks founder, Chewbacca, is heading there now too."

Atika Shubert contributed to this report

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