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Foreign Secretary William Hague: Julian Assange will not get safe passage out of UK

The attempt by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to avoid extradition from the UK has taken a dramatic turn as he was granted political asylum by the government of Ecuador.

The Australian described the move as a "significant and historic victory", but Foreign Secretary William Hague made it clear that he would not be allowed safe passage out of this country.

Mr Assange has been taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past two months after facing extradition to Sweden where he faces allegations of sexual assault. He denies the claims and fears being sent to the United States if he goes to Sweden.

He watched the asylum 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.

Mr Assange walked into the room and publicly thanked the staff for their support over the past few weeks.

Mr Hague said Mr Assange would not be allowed safe passage out of the UK despite the asylum decision and that diplomatic immunity should not be used harbour alleged criminals.

Mr Hague said it is a "matter of regret" that the Ecuadorian government granted the WikiLeaks founder political asylum but warned that it "does not change the fundamentals" of the case.

The case could go on for some "considerable" time, Mr Hague said, adding: "We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so."

Mr Hague dismissed Ecuadorian claims that they had been threatened with an "attack" on their embassy.

"There is no threat here to storm an embassy. We are talking about an Act of Parliament in this country which stresses that it must be used in full conformity with international law," he said.

The Foreign Secretary also denied claims by Mr Assange and his supporters that there was a deal which would see him extradited to the US.

"We have no arrangement with the United States. This is the United Kingdom fulfilling its obligations under the Extradition Act to Sweden, a close partner in so many ways, a fellow democracy in the European Union.

"It is as simple as that. Therefore to us it is a simple matter of carrying out our law but, as well as being simple, it is something we must do. We absolutely must fulfil our obligations under the Extradition Act. Therefore, we are determined to do so and we remain determined to do so despite the regrettable announcement that Ecuador has made today."

Ecuadorian ministers earlier accused the UK of threatening to attack the embassy to seize Mr Assange, after it emerged that the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 could allow 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.

Ecuador's foreign affairs minister, Ricardo Patino, said Mr Assange is clear that he is being persecuted for political reasons because of the disclosure of documents by WikiLeaks. His human rights are now at risk and Mr Assange fears "repression and intimidation" by countries affected by the disclosures.

"Ecuador is sure that there is a real threat of him being extradited to a third country, without any guarantees. He would be subject to cruel treatment," Mr Patino said in his press conference in Quito.

The Ecuadorian government has conducted lengthy diplomatic talks with the UK, Swedish and US governments, Mr Patino said.

None could give the guarantees about Mr Assange's future that the South American country was seeking and showed "no willingness" to negotiate on the issue.

Mr Assange said he is "grateful" to Ecuador and its president Rafael Correa.

He has been in contact with politicians in the South American country for some time and interviewed Mr Correa in April, during which the leader welcomed him to "the club of the persecuted".

Last year Ecuador expelled US ambassador Heather Hodges after Wikileaks released a cable in which she suggested President Correa was aware of corruption allegations against a senior police officer he promoted.

Mr Assange described Ecuador's decision to grant him asylum as a "historic victory" but added that "our struggles have just begun".

An official said Ecuador has acted within international and diplomatic law ever since Mr Assange took refuge inside the building.

The Swedish foreign ministry said it has summoned Ecuador's ambassador over the Latin American country's "unacceptable" decision to grant asylum.

News that Mr Assange was granted asylum was greeted with cheering by protesters kept behind railings across the road from the embassy in Knightsbridge.

Mr Assange will give a statement outside the Ecuadorean embassy on Sunday afternoon, according to tweets posted on the Wikileaks Twitter feed this evening.

In two separate messages it said: "ANNOUNCEMENT: Julian Assange will give a live statement in front of the Ecuadorian embassy, Sunday 2pm.

"Sunday the 19th is two months exactly since Assange entered the embassy. It will be his first public apperance (sic) since March."

The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has convened an "extraordinary meeting" in Ecuador on Sunday to discuss the situation at the embassy.

A statement released on the website of the foreign ministry of Peru, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the intergovernmental union, said: "The Foreign Ministry of Peru lets public opinion know that, in concordance with the statutory responsibilities of the temporary presidency of UNASUR, at the behest of the Republic of Ecuador and after consulting member states, an extraordinary meeting of the Counsel of Foreign Ministers of the Union has been convened on Sunday August 19 in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador.

"The meeting has been requested with the intention of considering the situation raised at the embassy of Ecuador in the United Kingdom."

The Daily Mail reported that the cost of the police operation outside the embassy would go up to "at least" £50,000 a day.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard responded: "We never know what the cost of an operation is until it is done, but the officers stationed outside the embassy would have been on duty anyway."

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