The United Kingdom is fuming over the decision by the government of Ecuador to grant Wikileaks Chief executive, Julian Assange political Asylum.
A threatened forced entrant by British security into Ecuador’s Embassy has been decried as illegal.
Ecuador claims forced entrant into its building would tantamount to flouting international laws.
The brewing international diplomatic stand-off has been hyped as United Kingdom is bent on a decision to extradite Assange to Sweden where he is wanted for rape allegation.
Ecuador’s hospitable decision to the Wikileaks Chief Executive may create a new diplomatic turning point between the two countries which see from two different sides.
Assange had used the Embassy as a refuge camp as he seeks political asylum after he was declared wanted by Sweden over a rape allegation.
The whistle blower Chief Executive had insisted he is innocent of the charges and that Sweden’s action declaring him wanted has been politically motivated. Assange linked the Swedish action to United States pressure as the US saw Wikileaks activities of revealing censored documents from US coffers as insulting to the United States intelligence department. He believed he would be whisked to the United States if extradited to Sweden.
Mr Assange watched on television from inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London as foreign minister Ricardo Patino made the announcement of his being granted Asylum in Quito.
He has been living in the Diplomatic Mission building for 56 days, seeking sanctuary in the embassy in Knightsbridge in an effort to avoid the planned deportation to Sweden.
Tensions are running high as Ecuadorian ministers are accusing the UK of threatening to “attack” the embassy to seize Mr Assange after it emerged that a 1987 law could allow the revocation of a building’s diplomatic status if the foreign power occupying it “ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post”.
Under international law, diplomatic posts are considered the territory of the foreign nation.
The Foreign Office has said the decision on Mr Assange’s application for political asylum would not affect the UK’s legal obligation to extradite him to Sweden.
Mr Assange saw the decision being announced via a live link to a press conference from the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.
The conference was watched by more than a dozen staff at the embassy in London’s Knightsbridge, London. Mr Assange arrived at the Embassy two months ago as part of his bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sexual assault.
Mr Assange walked into a room in the Embassy and publicly thanked the staff for their support over the past few weeks.
“It is a significant victory for myself, and my people. Things will probably get more stressful.
He welcomed the decision but warned the battle to protect his organisation would go on.
“I am grateful to the Ecuadorian people, President Rafael Correa and his government. It was not Britain or my home country, Australia, that stood up to protect me from persecution, but a courageous, independent Latin American nation,” he said.
“While today is a historic victory, our struggles have just begun. The unprecedented US investigation against WikiLeaks must be stopped”, he appealed.
Mr Patino said Ecuador believed the Australian faces a real threat of political persecution, including the prospect of extradition to the US where he said he would not get a fair trial.
“It is not impossible that he would be treated in a cruel manner, condemned to life in prison, or even the death penalty,” he said, adding: “Ecuador is convinced that his procedural rights have been violated.”
The Australian, 41, sought sanctuary in the embassy in June after losing his latest legal bid to avoid deportation to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sexual assault allegations.
His lawyers say he fears he could be extradited to the US from Sweden and tried over WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of documents and logs that seriously embarrassed America.
Ecuador had been in negotiations with the UK, Sweden and the US about Mr Assange but these soured on Wednesday after its government received a letter from British officials.
The letter warned there was a legal basis to arrest Mr Assange at the embassy if it continued to shield him and spoke of “serious implications” for diplomatic relations.
Under international law, diplomatic posts are considered the territory of the foreign nation but the Foreign Office is allowed to revoke this status if it is being abused.
It would take seven days to implement the legal process allowing for an arrest inside the building because the Government would have to give notice.
A furious Mr Patino made clear on Wednesday that his country regarded this as an “explicit threat” by Britain and that would be a flagrant breach of international law if it was carried out.
WikiLeaks described the move as intimidation, saying: “A threat of this nature is a hostile and extreme act which is not proportionate to the circumstances and an unprecedented assault on the rights of asylum seekers worldwide.”
Mr Assange’s mother Christine has suggested that the US is behind Britain’s trenchant approach and called on Australia’s attorney general to protest.
“What the US wants, the US gets from its allies, regardless of if it’s legal or it’s ethical or in breach of human or legal rights. We’re all lackeys,” she told reporters in Australia.
Supporters of the WikiLeaks founder descended on the embassy on Thursday and clashed with the scores of police on duty outside. Three protesters were arrested.
Demonstrators, who had been chanting “Julian Assange – Freedom Fighter” and “Hands Off Ecuador”, cheered as news of the asylum decision filtered through.
The move will deepen even more the deep diplomatic rift between Britain and Ecuador, which has warned any raid on its embassy could plunge relations back into the “dark ages”.
The United Kingdom Foreign Office said it was disappointed by the decision but warned it still plans to fulfil its legal duty to extradite Mr Assange.
A spokesman said: “Under our law, with Mr Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden.
“We shall carry out that obligation. The Ecuadorian government’s decision this afternoon does not change that.
“We remain committed to a negotiated solution that allows us to carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act.”
Mr Patino called for Mr Assange to be guaranteed “safe passage” to leave the embassy but the Foreign Office has insisted this would not be offered.
It is understood that despite the potential fallout, he would still be arrested and sent to Sweden if he leaves the embassy.
Sources: Skynews and Press Association