Ecuador president says no decision made on Assange asylum request

QUITO, ECUADOR (BNO NEWS) -- Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on Tuesday said no decision has been made yet whether the South American country will grant political asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of the controversial whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks who has sought refuge at the country's embassy in London.

Earlier on Tuesday, the British newspaper The Guardian quoted an unnamed official within the Ecuadorian government as saying that it has been decided to give Assange asylum. "Ecuador will grant asylum to Julian Assange," the official told the newspaper, giving no other details.

But Ecuadorian officials moved quickly to reject the report, saying the asylum request is still being considered. "The government of Ecuador has not yet made a decision regarding the asylum request of Julian Assange," government official Marco Antonio Bravo said. "What is now circulating in the media are rumors."

Correa also dismissed the report on his official Twitter account, saying he is still awaiting a report from the foreign ministry. "Rumors about asylum for Assange are false. There is still no decision about the matter," he said. "I have not yet received a report from the foreign ministry."

On Monday evening, Correa said a decision about the asylum request is expected later this week. "Hopefully on Wednesday there will be a meeting in which they give me all the reports, and this must be taken with great responsibility," he said during an interview on state television. "Hopefully this week we can make an announcement in respect to this matter."

Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on June 19 to request political asylum from the Ecuadorian government, claiming the government of Australia - where he was born - has abandoned him and that he is being persecuted politically. He also fears being extradited to the United States, where he believes he could be sentenced to death if he is indicted.

"Such statements make it impossible for me to return to my home country and puts me in a state of helplessness by being requested to be interrogated by the Kingdom of Sweden, where its top officials have openly attacked me, and investigated me for political crimes in the United States of America, a country where the death penalty for such offenses is still in force," Assange said in his request on June 19.

Assange's choice to seek asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy surprised many, especially because of Ecuador's bad record when it comes to press freedom and accusations that President Rafael Correa is leading a relentless campaign against free speech, but senior government officials have previously welcomed WikiLeaks.

In November 2010, then-deputy foreign minister Kintto Lucas invited Assange to visit Ecuador and offered him residency. "We are open to giving him residency in Ecuador, without any problem and without any conditions," he said at the time, although the Ecuadorian government later said Lucas was speaking on his personal behalf.

Nonetheless, Correa voiced his support for WikiLeaks in a recent interview with Assange for his TV series 'World Tomorrow.' "We have nothing to hide. If anything, the WikiLeaks have made us stronger, as the main accusations made by the (U.S.) embassy were due to our excessive nationalism and defense of the sovereignty of the Ecuadorian government," he said.

Correa added: "On the other hand, many WikiLeaks cables spoke about the interests in the national media about the power groups who go to seek help, to foster relationships with foreign embassies, and benefit from the embassy's contacts. Here we fear absolutely nothing, let them publish everything they have about the Ecuadorian Government."

After Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Scotland Yard said Assange has breached one of his bail conditions and will be arrested once he leaves the embassy compound. "As Mr Assange is in the Ecuadorean embassy he is in diplomatic territory and beyond the reach of the police," Britain's foreign office said in a statement. Police officers have since been stationed outside the embassy compound.

Assange has been fighting extradition from Britain to Sweden where he faces allegations of sexual molestation, unlawful coercion and rape. A London court dismissed Assange's appeal in November 2011 and the UK Supreme Court in June rejected his bid to reopen the case.

The accusations are unrelated to Assange's work for the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks which brought diplomatic earthquakes to the United States when it began releasing classified documents it had obtained. Assange has claimed the cases have been politically-linked, arguing that the sexual encounters with the two women in Sweden were consensual.

Wikileaks' first big scoop was on April 5, 2010, when it released a classified video which showed a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq which left several civilians killed, including two unarmed Reuters journalists. Assange previously said he had been told to expect 'dirty tricks' from the Pentagon, including 'sex traps' to ruin his reputation.

(Copyright 2012 by BNO News B.V. All rights reserved. Info: sales@bnonews.com.)

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