| 4°C Belfast

Ecuador bids to end Assange impasse


WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

The Ecuador government is to make a fresh attempt to break the deadlock over the future of Julian Assange, after it was made clear there is no immediate prospect of ending the impasse surrounding his case.

Foreign minister Ricardo Patino revealed during a brief visit to the UK that he will try to meet new Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, saying changes to the UK's extradition laws create a better climate for reaching a deal.

He was speaking inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London where Mr Assange has been staying for the past two years.

The WikiLeaks founder brushed off incorrect reports that he is about to give up his fight against extradition to Sweden where he faces sex-related allegations. His supporters made it clear he will remain inside the embassy.

Mr Patino was visiting the embassy to mark the second anniversary of Ecuador granting political asylum to Mr Assange.

The WikiLeaks founder believes he will be extradited to the United States if he travels to Sweden.

Asked about reports that he is planning to give up, Mr Assange said his legal advisers had told him he would be leaving the embassy soon, adding: "But perhaps not for the reasons the Murdoch press and Sky News are saying."

Scores of journalists and photographers waited outside the embassy, but if they expected Mr Assange to walk out, they were disappointed.

He spent 50 minutes sitting next to Mr Patino at a news conference before returning to the room he has been working from for the past two years.

Police officers continued to wait outside the embassy, as they have done for more than two years, in a round-the-clock operation Mr Assange said had cost £7 million.

He refused to explain his comment about leaving soon, but it was taken as a joke reply to the reports of him leaving.

Sources made it clear there is no deal in sight which would see Mr Assange leave the embassy soon.

Mr Patino said there had been "two lost years" for everyone involved, including the two Swedish women at the centre of the saga.

"There has not been justice for anyone. The situation must come to an end," he said.

Mr Patino referred to recent changes to the extradition laws in the UK which he believed would mean Mr Assange would not be facing extradition if the case started today.

"Over the coming weeks I will be trying to set up a meeting with the UK Foreign Secretary. We believe that the recent reforms create a better climate for us to try to reach an agreement."

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson made clear the rumours of Mr Assange's imminent departure are not true.

"The world is not coming to an end," he told reporters inside the embassy. "The plan, as always, is to leave as soon as the UK Government decides to honour its obligations in relation to international agreements."

Mr Hrafnsson said he did not know where the rumours reported in the British media had come from.

Mr Assange walked into the Ecuadorian embassy on June 19, 2012, and was granted political asylum two months later on August 16.

He said he has now been detained for four years, having spent time in prison and house arrest before going to the embassy.

He pointed out that the building, close to the Harrods store in Knightsbridge, does not have an outside area so he is not able to see sunlight.

"It is an environment which any healthy person would find themselves with certain difficulties they would have to manage.

"The United Nations minimum standard for prisoners is one hour a day of outside exercise.

"Even when I was in Wandsworth prison in solitary confinement, that was respected."

Mr Patino said the quality of Mr Assange's life and health is being "seriously affected", adding: "Ecuador is obligated to protect Julian Assange in our embassy until he can fully enjoy his right to asylum."

Mr Assange, sporting a beard and with longer hair than when he first arrived at the embassy, did not go into any detail about his health, preferring to concentrate on the lack of any progress over his case.

He repeated that he had not been charged with any offence and accused the US government of being "intransigent".

Mr Patino said the UK Government only wanted to look at the legal aspect of the case rather than for a political settlement.

"It is time to free Julian Assange and for his human rights to be finally respected," he added.

The media scrum outside the embassy eventually evaporated after it became clear the 43-year-old Australian was not about to walk out.

Police will immediately arrest Mr Assange if he does leave the building, although there has been criticism of the cost of the security operation, including from Liberal Democrats on the London Assembly.