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Ecuador grants citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

He has been living in the London embassy of the South American country for five-and-a-half years.

Ecuador has confirmed it has granted citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Foreign affairs minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa confirmed the government of Ecuador granted “naturalisation” to Mr Assange last December after he made a request in September.

Mr Assange, 46, has been living in the London embassy of the South American country for five-and-a-half years after being granted political asylum as he fought sex-related claims in Sweden.

The Ecuadorian government said earlier this week that it was seeking mediation to resolve the impasse – while Mr Assange posted a picture of himself on Twitter wearing an Ecuadorian football shirt on Wednesday.

The foreign minister said: “Everything is being done in accordance with the law. We regret the distortion of the facts, we are working to protect the country and the interests of Ecuador,” adding that action has been taken “in defence of the guarantee of human rights and in strict adherence to the law, the constitution and international instruments”.

An official said the South American country “maintains with the United Kingdom the best bilateral relations and co-operation”.

The minister said other ways of solving the impasse are being explored, in dialogue with the UK, as a possible mediation “that can facilitate a just, definitive and dignified solution for all the parties involved, within the framework of international law”.

The Foreign Office said on Wednesday it turned down a request from the Ecuadorian government to grant Mr Assange diplomatic status.

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Ecuador's Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa (Dolores Ochoa/AP)

An FCO spokesman said: “The government of Ecuador recently requested diplomatic status for Mr Assange here in the UK.

“The UK did not grant that request, nor are we in talks with Ecuador on this matter.

“Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.”

Swedish prosecutors have dropped their investigation into allegations against Mr Assange, but he fears he will be extradited to the United States if he leaves the building and that there is a sealed indictment ordering his arrest.

A United Nations panel concluded in 2016 that Mr Assange was under arbitrary detention.

A statement by Mr Assange’s legal team said: “The UN ruling, issued almost two years ago, is crystal clear in its language. Mr Assange is unlawfully and arbitrarily detained by the UK authorities and must be released.

“The UK should not permit itself to be intimidated by the Trump administration’s public threats to ‘take down’ Mr Assange.”

Renata Avila of campaign group the Courage Foundation said: “Ecuador’s decision to grant nationality to Julian Assange is a welcome step, but we’re still a long way from resolving this situation.

“In the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, we’ve seen the US rhetoric against First Amendment activity, and the threats of prosecution, reach new, dangerous heights.

“When the director of the CIA uses his inaugural speech to declare a publisher’s arrest a ‘priority’, we should all take seriously the threat posed to press freedoms in America.

“With alleged NSA whistleblower Reality Winner’s espionage case coming to trial in March and dozens of leak investigations under way, it is clear that the Trump administration will only intensify the war on whistleblowers and the journalism they make possible.”

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