Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Ecuador urges talks over Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, left, talks to his legal adviser Balthasar Garcon inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London

Ecuador has urged the UK Government to drop any threat to storm its embassy so that fresh talks can be held over the future of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been inside the building for the past two months.

Officials expressed optimism that a "compromise" could be reached over Mr Assange, who is wanted for questioning in Sweden over claims of sexual assault. But they made clear that the 41-year-old Australian can stay inside the London embassy for "as long as it takes" to resolve his future, with one official saying: "He can stay here for eight years... two centuries. However long he wants."

Meanwhile, fresh details have emerged of how unprepared the Embassy was to accommodate Mr Assange when he suddenly arrived two months ago seeking political asylum. An air bed had to be brought from the home of the Ecuadorian Ambassador so he could sleep in one of the rooms in the ground floor of the building. Officials insist no previous negotiations were held and said it was a "big surprise" when he arrived.

Mr Assange was granted political asylum by the Ecuador Government a week ago, a day after it was revealed that the UK Government had warned that under a 1987 Act, it could enter the Embassy to arrest the Australian.

Officials revealed that up to 50 police officers arrived at the Embassy after the warning, with some climbing a fire escape and one standing outside a toilet. Staff said the situation was "tense".

At a briefing inside the Embassy, officials said they were surprised that the UK Government had not withdrawn the threat, even though Foreign Secretary William Hague said there was no intention to "storm" the building.

An official said: "The best thing to do is for the Government to withdraw the threat. The Foreign Office has been contacting many South American countries in the past week indicating they wanted to open conversations again with the Ecuador government - but they have made no approach."

The official said withdrawing the threat to enter the embassy was not a condition of talks being held, but it would be an "indication of good faith".

A Foreign Office official called the embassy a week ago after Mr Assange was granted political asylum, but there has been no contact since. Several police officers have been stationed outside the embassy, and the Government has made it clear Mr Assange will be arrested if he steps outside after jumping bail.

The WikiLeaks founder fears he will be extradited to the United States if he goes to Sweden to face questioning over the sex allegations, which he denies.

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