Posts tagged "Ecuador"

Ecuador raises Julian Assange case with Labour

Diplomat brings up subject of WikiLeaks founder taking refuge in embassy at meeting with shadow foreign secretary

Ecuadorean diplomats have raised the case of Julian Assange with the Labour party as part of attempts to lay the groundwork for a resolution of the diplomatic standoff between Britain and the South American state over the WikiLeaks’ founder.

As part of its continuing search for an end to the impasse, Ecuador has been seeking a commitment from the coalition that it would not support Assange’s onward extradition to the US should he choose to go to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.

In an indication that the Ecuadoreans are now also setting their sights on a possible change of government after the 2015 election, Ecuador’s ambassador, Ana Alban, raised Assange’s case during a meeting with the shadow foreign minister, Kerry McCarthy.

The meeting had been requested by Ecuador to discuss environmental issues and bilateral trade, and the Labour side were taken by surprise when the Australian’s case was raised by the Ecuadoreans towards the end of the meeting.

A Labour source was eager to distance the party from the issue, saying: “The meeting was on the basis of a discussion about other issues and was one part of a series of regular contact meetings with foreign governments in London.

“This [Assange] is not a policy issue for the Labour party.”

The WikiLeaks founder has been living in the embassy in central London since June in order to avoid arrest and extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual offences. There is a permanent police guard and he will be arrested if he leaves the premises.

Ecuadorean diplomats have been in discussions with the Swedish and UK governments since Assange unexpectedly sought refuge at the embassy.

Discussions last year focused on what was likely to happen to him once legal proceedings in Sweden were completed, according to the Ecuadoreans.

A senior legal adviser to the embassy has said that the home secretary, Theresa May, would need to waive specialty – a legal concept that ensures an individual can only be extradited to one country – under section 58 of the Extradition Act 2003 before Assange could be extradited from Sweden to the US.

The Foreign Office has stated that the UK has a binding legal obligation to extradite him to Sweden to face questioning over the allegations.

Swedish prosecutors have dismissed claims that their case is part of a political move to see Assange stand trial in the US over his work with WikiLeaks.

Ben Quinn


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Posted by admin - March 30, 2013 at 00:09

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Ethical gifts: lending money to entrepreneurs in developing nations

Microloans to some of the world’s poorest entrepreneurs can become the gift that keeps giving

Ethical gifts have been around for years, but how about one that allows the recipient to choose an individual in the developing world to support with a small loan, and then get updates on how they are doing?

There are a number of ways Brits can lend money to, or invest in, people in some of the world’s poorest countries who are trying to build a better life for themselves. One that Guardian Money has highlighted before is the “microloans” scheme run by lendwithcare.org, set up by aid organisation Care International UK with backing from the Co-operative Group.

Individuals can choose an entrepreneur to lend money to and help them transform their life. The website is helping people in Benin, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Ecuador, the Philippines and Togo to start or expand their small business. It also offers gift vouchers, starting from £15, and the charity stresses that 100% of the loan goes to the entrepreneur. The recipient of the voucher can visit the lendwithcare website to view the profiles of those looking for finance, and choose who to support – perhaps a fish farmer in Cambodia, a beautician in Togo or a tomato grower in Ecuador.

The money is paid back in instalments. When it has been repaid, you can “reinvest” the same loan in a different entrepreneur, which, says the charity, makes it “the gift that keeps on giving”.

Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden has visited Cambodia to see lendwithcare in action. She said: “Becoming a lender is rewarding and fascinating, so a lendwithcare.org voucher – giving the recipient the chance to also experience this – is an inspired idea for a gift this Christmas.” For more information go to lendwithcare.org/gift_vouchers

Alternatively, you could invest in an organisation such as Oikocredit, a co-operative that is one of the world’s largest sources of private funding to the microfinance sector. Based in the Netherlands, but with an office near Preston, Lancashire, Oikocredit lends its investors’ money to microfinance institutions all over the world. In turn, they dispense “life-changing” loans in countries such as India and Guatemala, with an emphasis on rural areas and women.

Individuals and organisations such as charities can invest by buying “depository receipts”. The minimum investment is £150, and those who sign up will enjoy a “modest” financial return; a 2% dividend has been paid almost every year since 1989. Considering that cash Isas pay little more than 3%, it’s a small price to pay to help others at little cost to yourself.


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Posted by admin - November 3, 2012 at 09:00

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Ecuador will care for Julian Assange in embassy if WikiLeaks founder falls ill

Ecuador prepared to set up operating theatre in London embassy if necessary, says foreign minister

Ecuador is prepared to set up an operating theatre in its London embassy if Julian Assange needs urgent medical attention and the UK is not prepared to guarantee his safe passage to a hospital and back, according to the Ecuadorean foreign minister.

As the WikiLeaks founder spent his 100th day in the Ecuadorean embassy, where he has sought refuge from extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual crimes, the country’s foreign minister met his British counterpart, William Hague, to ask about contingency plans should Assange fall ill.

Hague told Ricardo Patino that he would consult officials and lawyers and respond within a few days, but a British official commented: “Maybe the Ecuadoreans should have thought of that before they granted him asylum.” The official added that British police were under obligation to arrest Assange as soon as he stepped out of the embassy.

“One thing we have proposed is to have an ambulance parked outside,” Patino told the Guardian in an interview in New York. “What we have said, if such a case should happen, we should be ready to install an operating theatre inside the premises, unless Mr Hague responds, as he promised in the next few days, that he [Assange] would be able to go to a hospital.”

The Ecuadorean foreign minister said that the Australian government had offered to help organise Assange’s healthcare during an indefinite stay in an embassy apartment, given the diplomatic impasse over his fate. Ecuador offered him asylum last month, saying he faced political persecution in the US, but the UK insists it has a legal duty to arrest him and extradite him to Sweden to face questioning. Australian officials have not confirmed Patino’s claim that Canberra had offered medical help.

When Assange addressed diplomats at the UN general assembly this week, via a satellite link from the London embassy, he appeared pale, with dark rings under his eyes. His voice was hoarse and his sniffed frequently.

Patino said he was not aware of any immediate health concerns for Assange but added: “We know that anyone who lives in these conditions of confinement may easily suffer from health issues, not only physical but also psychological. Imagine you have to stay in a room for three months. Imagine if you are going to be five years in this confinement.”

In November 2010, a Swedish court ordered Assange be detained for questioning after allegations by two women that what had started as consensual sex had turned non-consensual.

This week, Amnesty International called on Sweden to provide a guarantee that if Assange travelled there to answer questions over the sex-crime allegations, he would not be sent on to the US for charges connected to WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of US diplomatic and military cables.

A spokeswoman for the Swedish foreign ministry said the country’s legislation did not allow any judicial decision like extradition to be predetermined. The UK, which would also have to permit an extradition to the US, has given the same response but Hague stressed to Patino at their New York meeting that the European Convention on Human Rights sets strict limits on such extraditions, forbidding them, for example, if the charges in question carry the death penalty.

“The foreign secretary described the extensive human-rights safeguards in UK extradition law. He requested the government of Ecuador to study these provisions closely in considering the way ahead,” a foreign office spokesman said.

Officials said that the treatment of the alleged source of the WikiLeaks US cables, Bradley Manning – an American soldier whose lawyers say was subject to brutal and humiliating treatment and who has so far spent more than two years in jail without trial – would be taken into account if and when any future extradition decision was made.

However, Patino said that it was too late for such assurances, since Ecuador’s decision to offer asylum was irrevocable.

“When we hadn’t yet granted asylum, we could talk about guarantees,” the foreign minister said. “Now that we have granted asylum we are under the obligation not to surrender Mr Assange.”


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Posted by admin - September 28, 2012 at 21:00

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Julian Assange saga continues as Hague holds talks with Ecuador

Foreign secretary meets Ecuadorean vice-president in attempt to find diplomatic solution to case of WikiLeaks founder

William Hague, the foreign secretary, has held talks with Ecuador’s vice-president Lenin Moreno as the deadlock over the status of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange continued. Ecuador has granted political asylum to Assange, who is staying at the London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces sexual offence allegations.

The Australian activist will be arrested and extradited if he steps outside the building after jumping bail. A Foreign Office spokesman said the UK and Ecuador would continue attempts to find a “diplomatic solution” to the stand-off.

Ecuador claims that Britain has threatened to enter the embassy and detain 41-year-old Assange in a move that would violate diplomatic conventions. Britain has warned that it can legally enter the embassy and arrest Assange under the 1987 Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act, but Hague has said there is no intention to “storm” the building.

Hague met Moreno in the Foreign Office as the vice-president visited the UK for the Paralympics and the pair talked about the Games and the rights of those with disabilities. A Foreign Office spokesman said: “They also discussed the situation regarding Mr Julian Assange’s presence in the embassy of Ecuador in London. They confirmed the UK and Ecuador’s commitment to dialogue to find a diplomatic solution to the matter.”


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Posted by admin - August 30, 2012 at 07:50

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Assange arrest plan revealed accidentally

Picture shows officer holding document with instructions to arrest WikiLeaks founder whether he leaves in diplomatic car or bag

Plans to seize Julian Assange “under all circumstances” the moment he leaves the Ecuadorean embassy in London have accidentally been revealed by a police officer displaying restricted documents outside the embassy.

The document, pictured under the officer’s arm by a Press Association photographer, appears to advocate arresting the WikiLeaks founder whether he leaves the building in a diplomatic bag or in a diplomatic car.

The handwritten plan was recorded at a police briefing and only partially covered by the officer’s arm as he arrived at the embassy in Knightsbridge on Friday.

The brief begins: “BRIEF – EQ. Embassy brief – Summary of current position Re Assange. Action required – Assange to be arrested under all circumstances.” It then makes reference to a “dip bag” and a “dip vehicle”.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: “The document is one officer’s notes from a briefing. Our objective is to arrest Julian Assange for breach of bail. Under no circumstances would any arrest be made which was in breach of diplomatic immunity.”

Assange, who has been in the building for two months, is wanted for questioning in Sweden over claims of sexual assault.

He is refusing to travel to Scandinavia amid fears he will be extradited to the United States over his controversial website. Ecuador granted the Australian political asylum last week.

The UK government has made it clear Assange, who denies the allegations, will be arrested if he steps outside the embassy after jumping bail.

Speculation has been rife about possible escape routes, and Assange’s legal team and the Ecuadorean government have talked about the possibility of safe passage to Ecuador.

Ambassadors from several South American countries went to the embassy on Friday to show their solidarity with Ecuador.

The British government has threatened, under a 1987 Act, to enter the embassy and arrest the 41-year-old, but foreign secretary William Hague has said there is no intention to “storm” the building.

Ecuador’s president has said the diplomatic row “could be ended tomorrow” if Britain gave the activist safe passage to South America.


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Posted by admin - August 25, 2012 at 08:32

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Julian Assange sex claims not a crime in Latin America – Ecuador president

Rafael Correa says allegations should still be investigated but Ecuador will stand firm on asylum for WikiLeaks founder

Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, has said Julian Assange should respond to the sexual assault allegations made against him by two Swedish women, even though the case would not in his view constitute criminal behaviour in Latin America.

His remarks are likely to add to the controversy surrounding the WikiLeaks founder but they also hint at a possible avenue for a compromise in the diplomatic row caused by Ecuador’s recent decision to grant asylum to Assange at its London embassy.

In the latest in a series of strident comments, Correa accused the British government of hypocrisy and said he was prepared for the stand-off to last indefinitely even if it risked a loss of UK business and public support. “If the UK distances itself from Ecuador as a result of this decision to grant asylum that would make us very sorry because we appreciate the United Kingdom – especially its people – but that will not make us go back on our position.

“Despite the attitude of the United Kingdom, we as a country are obliged to act responsibly,” he told a gathering of international press in Guiyaquil. “As we have previously said, now that he has asylum, Mr Assange is entitled to remain in the embassy for as long as he wants.”

He spelled out three possibilities for the stand-off to be broken: for the UK to promise safe conduct to the airport without the threat of arrest; for Assange to leave asylum of his own accord; or for the government in Ecuador to change its mind, which he said would not happen.

The British government has insisted on an investigation into the rape and sexual assault accusations. It wants to comply with a court request that Assange should be sent to Sweden for questioning. Assange’s supporters have tried to discredit the allegations, saying they are part of a plot to extradite him to the US.

Senior politicians in Ecuador have implied much the same. Correas added his voice but said the case needed to be answered. “I don’t want to judge allegations that have not been proven and would not, in any case, be considered a felony in Latin American too,” he said.  ”It has never been the intention of the Ecuadorean government or Julian Assange not to respond to those allegations.”

Ecuador has proposed interrogations by Swedish investigators on embassy property and has said it would support Assange going to Sweden if it could get reassurances from the UK government that he would not then be extradited to the US.

Critics say this is grandstanding for domestic political reasons. Correa – already Ecuador’s longest serving president for a century – will contest an election early next year. Although his support rates are high, one of his least popular moves has been to assert greater control over the media through lawsuits, referenda and closures of radio stations. Providing a haven for Assage – a champion of whistleblowers – may be designed to offset these negative perceptions.

During the Q&A on Tuesday Correa spent a chunk of the time addressing this issue and defending an offensive against TV, radio and print. “Don’t let yourself be fooled by what’s going. There is this image of the media as being about Woodward and Bernstein and Watergate and the struggle for freedom of expression. But that isn’t the case here.” 

The reality, he said, was more like the the novel Pantaleón y las Visitadora by Mario Vargas Llosa. “Instead of grabbing the news they are blackmailing people. The press in Latin America is totally corrupt.”


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Posted by admin - August 22, 2012 at 08:23

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Don’t lose sight of why the US is out to get Julian Assange | Seumas Milne

Ecuador is pressing for a deal that offers justice to Assange’s accusers – and essential protection for whistleblowers

Considering he made his name with the biggest leak of secret government documents in history, you might imagine there would be at least be some residual concern for Julian Assange among those trading in the freedom of information business. But the virulence of British media hostility towards the WikiLeaks founder is now unrelenting.

This is a man, after all, who has yet to be charged, let alone convicted, of anything. But as far as the bulk of the press is concerned, Assange is nothing but a “monstrous narcissist”, a bail-jumping “sex pest” and an exhibitionist maniac. After Ecuador granted him political asylum and Assange delivered a “tirade” from its London embassy’s balcony, fire was turned on the country’s progressive president, Rafael Correa, ludicrously branded a corrupt “dictator” with an “iron grip” on a benighted land.

The ostensible reason for this venom is of course Assange’s attempt to resist extradition to Sweden (and onward extradition to the US) over sexual assault allegations – including from newspapers whose record on covering rape and violence against women is shaky, to put it politely. But as the row over his embassy refuge has escalated into a major diplomatic stand-off, with the whole of South America piling in behind Ecuador, such posturing looks increasingly specious.

Can anyone seriously believe the dispute would have gone global, or that the British government would have made its asinine threat to suspend the Ecuadorean embassy’s diplomatic status and enter it by force, or that scores of police would have surrounded the building, swarming up and down the fire escape and guarding every window, if it was all about one man wanted for questioning over sex crime allegations in Stockholm?

To get a grip on what is actually going on, rewind to WikiLeaks’ explosive release of secret US military reports and hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables two years ago. They disgorged devastating evidence of US war crimes and collusion with death squads in Iraq on an industrial scale, the machinations and lies of America’s wars and allies, its illegal US spying on UN officials – as well as a compendium of official corruption and deceit across the world.

WikiLeaks provided fuel for the Arab uprisings. It didn’t just deliver information for citizens to hold governments everywhere to account, but crucially opened up the exercise of US global power to democratic scrutiny. Not surprisingly, the US government made clear it regarded WikiLeaks as a serious threat to its interests from the start, denouncing the release of confidential US cables as a “criminal act”.

Vice-president Joe Biden has compared Assange to a “hi-tech terrorist”. Shock jocks and neocons have called for him to be hunted down and killed. Bradley Manning, the 24-year-old soldier accused of passing the largest trove of US documents to WikiLeaks, who has been held in conditions described as “cruel and inhuman” by the UN special rapporteur on torture, faces up to 52 years in prison.

The US administration yesterday claimed the WikiLeaks founder was trying to deflect attention from his Swedish case by making “wild allegations” about US intentions. But the idea that the threat of US extradition is some paranoid WikiLeaks fantasy is absurd.

A grand jury in Virginia has been preparing a case against Assange and WikiLeaks for espionage, a leak earlier this year suggested that the US government has already issued a secret sealed indictment against Assange, while Australian diplomats have reported that the WikiLeaks founder is the target of an investigation that is “unprecedented both in its scale and its nature”.

The US interest in deterring others from following the WikiLeaks path is obvious. And it would be bizarre to expect a state which over the past decade has kidnapped, tortured and illegally incarcerated its enemies, real or imagined, on a global scale – and continues to do so under President Barack Obama – to walk away from what Hillary Clinton described as an “attack on the international community”. In the meantime, the US authorities are presumably banking on seeing Assange further discredited in Sweden.

None of that should detract from the seriousness of the rape allegations made against Assange, for which he should clearly answer and, if charges are brought, stand trial. The question is how to achieve justice for the women involved while protecting Assange (and other whistleblowers) from punitive extradition to a legal system that could potentially land him in a US prison cell for decades.

The politicisation of the Swedish case was clear from the initial leak of the allegations to the prosecutor’s decision to seek Assange’s extradition for questioning – described by a former Stockholm prosecutor as “unreasonable, unfair and disproportionate” – when the authorities have been happy to interview suspects abroad in more serious cases.

And given the context, it’s also hardly surprising that sceptics have raised the links with US-funded anti-Cuban opposition groups of one of those making the accusations – or that campaigners such as the London-based Women Against Rape have expressed scepticism at the “unusual zeal” with which rape allegations were pursued against Assange in a country where rape convictions have fallen. The danger, of course, is that the murk around this case plays into a misogynist culture in which rape victims aren’t believed.

But why, Assange’s critics charge, would he be more likely to be extradited to the US from Sweden than from Britain, Washington’s patsy, notorious for its one-sided extradition arrangements. There are specific risks in Sweden – for example, its fast-track “temporary surrender” extradition agreement it has with the US. But the real point is that Assange is in danger of extradition in both countries – which is why Ecuador was right to offer him protection.

The solution is obvious. It’s the one that Ecuador is proposing – and that London and Stockholm are resisting. If the Swedish government pledged to block the extradition of Assange to the US for any WikiLeaks-related offence (which it has the power to do) – and Britain agreed not to sanction extradition to a third country once Swedish proceedings are over – then justice could be served. But with loyalty to the US on the line, Assange shouldn’t expect to leave the embassy any time soon.

• Comments on this article will be turned on in the morning

Twitter: @SeumasMilne


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Posted by admin - August 21, 2012 at 21:47

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Julian Assange takes aim at US as diplomatic row deepens

Speech from balcony of Ecuador’s London embassy calls on Barack Obama to abandon ‘witch-hunt’ against WikiLeaks

The diplomatic standoff between Britain and Ecuador deepened on Sunday after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange used an extraordinary appearance on the first-floor balcony of Ecuador’s London embassy to berate the United States.

With Metropolitan police officers watching from metres away, Assange called on President Obama to abandon what he called a “witch-hunt” against WikiLeaks. He said an alleged “FBI investigation” against his whistleblowing website should be “dissolved” and that the US should go back to its original “revolutionary” values.

“As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of our societies,” Assange said, standing on a white balcony just above the pavement, and flanked by Ecuador’s yellow, blue and red flag. He added: “I ask President Obama to do the right thing: the United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks.”

Assange also thanked Ecuador’s social democrat president, Rafael Correa, for granting him political asylum. Correa’s decision, announced last Thursday, has set off a growing international row. Assange also thanked several other Latin American countries for their support – implicitly warning Britain that any dispute with Ecuador could rapidly snowball into a conflict with the entire region.

More than 50 police officers surrounded the embassy in Knightsbridge, south-west London, on Sunday, with a police helicopter in the skies above, but they were clearly under orders not to try to arrest the WikiLeaks founder. Assange addressed around 100 well-wishers, with supporters including Tariq Ali and former British ambassador Craig Murray making speeches from the street.

Assange spoke for 10 minutes. He appeared cheerful, if unsurprisingly pale. This was his first public appearance since he slipped into the embassy two months ago and the latest surreal episode in a soap opera that has seen him go from the High Court to house arrest in Norfolk and now to an embassy camp-bed in genteel Kensington and Chelsea, less than 50m from Harrods.

The 41-year-old Australian took refuge in the embassy after the supreme court ordered his extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of serious sexual misconduct. Assange pointedly did not mention those allegations on Sunday, instead casting his predicament as a universal one of free speech struggling to survive in a “dangerous and oppressive world”. Britain says it is obliged to implement EU extradition law and will arrest Assange the second he leaves the building.

Speaking from the balcony in SW1, Assange claimed that the Met had come close to storming the embassy late last Wednesday. Britain sent a letter to Ecuador last week stating that it believes it is entitled to arrest Assange inside the building under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987. The claim has enraged the government in Quito, which says the 1961 Vienna convention protects its – and others’ – diplomatic territory.

Assange said: “Inside this embassy in the dark, I could hear teams of police swarming up inside the building through its internal fire escape.” He said the only reason the UK “did not throw away the Vienna convention the other night” was because “the world is watching”. He also thanked embassy staff, “who have shown me hospitality and kindness, despite the threats we all received”.

Despite the heavy police presence on Sunday, the Foreign Office is clearly trying to find a diplomatic solution to the row with Ecuador. Foreign secretary William Hague has made it clear there is no suggestion that police would “storm” the embassy.

But Assange’s provocative balcony appearance, in which he praised “courageous Ecuador” while disparaging Britain, his long-suffering host country, will have won him few new friends in Downing Street. Assange’s supporters claim that if he is sent to Sweden he is in danger of being extradited to the US to be charged with espionage. Sweden has vehemently denied this.

On Sunday Assange said: “Will it [the US] return to and reaffirm the revolutionary values it was founded on, or will it lurch off the precipice, dragging us all into a dangerous and oppressive world?”

He said there should be no “foolish talk” about prosecuting media organisations, mentioning not only WikiLeaks but also the New York Times, a paper Assange has previously bitterly criticised.

He also called on the US to end its “war on whistleblowers”, and demanded that Bradley Manning, the US army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking information, be released.

Manning has been charged with transferring classified data and delivering national defence information to an unauthorised source. He faces up to 52 years in jail.

Assange called him a hero and “an example to all of us” – drawing cheers from WikiLeaks fans packing the Knightsbridge pavement. “On Wednesday, Bradley Manning spent his 815th day of detention without trial,” Assange said. “The legal maximum is 120 days.”

Assange also made a rare mention of his children, “who have been denied their father”. He said he hoped soon to be back with them and the rest of his family, adding: “Forgive me, we will be reunited soon.”


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Posted by admin - August 20, 2012 at 08:50

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Julian Assange takes aim at United States as row deepens

Speech from balcony of Ecuador’s London embassy calls on Barack Obama to abandon ‘witch-hunt’ against WikiLeaks

The diplomatic standoff between Britain and Ecuador deepened on Sunday after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange used an extraordinary appearance on the first-floor balcony of Ecuador’s London embassy to berate the United States.

With Metropolitan police officers watching from metres away, Assange called on President Obama to abandon what he called a “witch-hunt” against WikiLeaks. He said an alleged “FBI investigation” against his whistleblowing website should be “dissolved” and that the US should go back to its original “revolutionary” values.

“As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of our societies,” Assange said, standing on a white balcony just above the pavement, and flanked by Ecuador’s yellow, blue and red flag. He added: “I ask President Obama to do the right thing: the United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks.”

Assange also thanked Ecuador’s social democrat president, Rafael Correa, for granting him political asylum. Correa’s decision, announced last Thursday, has set off a growing international row. Assange also thanked several other Latin American countries for their support – implicitly warning Britain that any dispute with Ecuador could rapidly snowball into a conflict with the entire region.

More than 50 police officers surrounded the embassy in Knightsbridge, south-west London, on Sunday, with a police helicopter in the skies above, but they were clearly under orders not to try to arrest the WikiLeaks founder. Assange addressed around 100 well-wishers, with supporters including Tariq Ali and former British ambassador Craig Murray making speeches from the street.

Assange spoke for 10 minutes. He appeared cheerful, if unsurprisingly pale. This was his first public appearance since he slipped into the embassy two months ago and the latest surreal episode in a soap opera that has seen him go from the High Court to house arrest in Norfolk and now to an embassy camp-bed in genteel Kensington and Chelsea, less than 50m from Harrods.

The 41-year-old Australian took refuge in the embassy after the supreme court ordered his extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of serious sexual misconduct. Assange pointedly did not mention those allegations on Sunday, instead casting his predicament as a universal one of free speech struggling to survive in a “dangerous and oppressive world”. Britain says it is obliged to implement EU extradition law and will arrest Assange the second he leaves the building.

Speaking from the balcony in SW1, Assange claimed that the Met had come close to storming the embassy late last Wednesday. Britain sent a letter to Ecuador last week stating that it believes it is entitled to arrest Assange inside the building under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987. The claim has enraged the government in Quito, which says the 1961 Vienna convention protects its – and others’ – diplomatic territory.

Assange said: “Inside this embassy in the dark, I could hear teams of police swarming up inside the building through its internal fire escape.” He said the only reason the UK “did not throw away the Vienna convention the other night” was because “the world is watching”. He also thanked embassy staff, “who have shown me hospitality and kindness, despite the threats we all received”.

Despite the heavy police presence on Sunday, the Foreign Office is clearly trying to find a diplomatic solution to the row with Ecuador. Foreign secretary William Hague has made it clear there is no suggestion that police would “storm” the embassy.

But Assange’s provocative balcony appearance, in which he praised “courageous Ecuador” while disparaging Britain, his long-suffering host country, will have won him few new friends in Downing Street. Assange’s supporters claim that if he is sent to Sweden he is in danger of being extradited to the US to be charged with espionage. Sweden has vehemently denied this.

On Sunday Assange said: “Will it [the US] return to and reaffirm the revolutionary values it was founded on, or will it lurch off the precipice, dragging us all into a dangerous and oppressive world?”

He said there should be no “foolish talk” about prosecuting media organisations, mentioning not only WikiLeaks but also the New York Times, a paper Assange has previously bitterly criticised.

He also called on the US to end its “war on whistleblowers”, and demanded that Bradley Manning, the US army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking information, be released.

Manning has been charged with transferring classified data and delivering national defence information to an unauthorised source. He faces up to 52 years in jail.

Assange called him a hero and “an example to all of us” – drawing cheers from WikiLeaks fans packing the Knightsbridge pavement. “On Wednesday, Bradley Manning spent his 815th day of detention without trial,” Assange said. “The legal maximum is 120 days.”

Assange also made a rare mention of his children, “who have been denied their father”. He said he hoped soon to be back with them and the rest of his family, adding: “Forgive me, we will be reunited soon.”


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Posted by admin - August 19, 2012 at 22:03

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Julian Assange, the balcony Bolívar of Knightsbridge

The WikiLeaks founder blew a giant raspberry in the face of William Hague from the Ecuadorean embassy in London

The balcony of Ecuador’s London embassy is a mere 10ft above street level. Theoretically speaking, it might have been possible for a tall Metropolitan police officer to have leapt up and grabbed Julian Assange by the leg. Or possibly his foot.

Certainly, there were plenty of men in blue to be seen around the embassy on Sunday. Scotland Yard was taking no chances. Before Assange appeared at the balcony – in scenes that might have sprung from Monty Python’s Life of Brian – officers had comprehensively sealed off the area.

Several were lurking at the side of the red brick building. Others stood grim-faced in front of a scrum of media and WikiLeaks supporters packing the Knightsbridge pavement. There was even a police helicopter. It circled noisily overhead. If Assange had planned to escape by hot-air balloon – well, the Met had that one covered.

At around 2.30pm Assange emerged on to the balcony, a pallid figure dressed in a business-blue shirt and maroon tie. There was an enormous roar. Assange managed a thumbs-up, then tapped the microphone and inquired: “Can you hear me?” This, perhaps, was the moment for someone to shout: “‘E’s not the Messiah! ‘E’s a very naughty boy!” But from the Met officers there was a gloomy silence.

As part of his asylum deal with Ecuador, Assange had agreed not to make any political statements from the embassy – the cramped ground and first floors of an SW1 townhouse, right next to Harrods. In reality, the manner of his balcony appearance – just feet away from the police, next to a large Ecuadorean flag – amounted to a giant, taunting raspberry blown in the face of William Hague.

In a carefully crafted 10-minute speech, the WikiLeaks founder thanked those who had made his escape from a Swedish extradition warrant possible: Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa (who is having a good Assange crisis); the country’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, and the freedom-loving nations of South America. He mentioned many of them by name, Argentina twice.

Unsurprisingly, Assange reserved his harshest words for the US. He called on President Obama to stop its “witch-hunt against WikiLeaks”. And he said the FBI should “dissolve” its investigation against him. He also called for Bradley Manning, the alleged source of classified material from US war logs and diplomatic missions passed to WikiLeaks, to be released from military jail.

Assange’s supporters loved it. So did his celebrity backers. Earlier, Craig Murray, the UK’s former ambassador in Tashkent, denounced Hague in front of the embassy for his “threat” last week to enter the building and seize Assange. Murray said “neo-conservative juntas” now ran western Europe and said that he too had sheltered dissidents inside the British embassy in Uzbekistan. Tariq Ali, meanwhile, said Europe had much to learn from South America. We should “change” our “gaze”. Someone shouted back: “So should you, mate.”

But for Assange sceptics this was more of the same: an attempt to yoke the principles of free speech and justice (good) with a criminal case in Sweden (a matter for the courts). Assange said nothing about the allegations of sexual misconduct that have got him into this mess – allegations separate from any theoretical attempt to indict him in the US.

Assange also called for the release of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot. His appeal might have had more credibility had Assange not worked for Russia Today, the TV channel owned by the same Kremlin that put the band in jail.

Nonetheless, the balcony drama was another PR triumph for Assange, now recast as a South American revolutionary hero akin to Simón Bolívar. Filming from the balcony was a crew from Ecuador state TV. This is all good news for Correa, who has written up this latest episode in the Assange soap opera as one small nation’s plucky battle against the evils of Anglo-American imperialism.

Still, one senses Scotland Yard may get the last laugh. Ecuador is a long way away. “He’s not going anywhere,” one police officer said of Assange, as the crowds melted away in the rain.


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