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We'll arrest Julian Assange, insists British Government

By Jerome Taylor

Julian Assange will never be allowed free passage out of Britain, the Government has said.

JULIAN Assange will never be allowed free passage out of Britain, the Government has said.

It raises the prospect of the fugitive WikiLeaks founder's effective imprisonment inside the Ecuadorean embassy for months or even years to come.

Ecuador threw down the gauntlet to the UK, Sweden and the United States yesterday by granting political asylum to Mr Assange. He has been holed up in its cramped embassy in Knightsbridge, London, for two months to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning on allegations of rape.

Following a dramatic day which saw protests, arrests and an increasingly ugly diplomatic fall-out between the UK and Ecuador, the South American country's foreign minister said it was granting asylum to Mr Assange (41) because of “serious indications” that the US could threaten the Australian's “security, integrity and even his life”.

Officials in Washington are furious that Mr Assange published thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables online.

Britain insists that nothing has changed now that he has been granted asylum. He can only leave the embassy and travel to the Ecuadorean capital Quito, if Britain agrees to allow him safe passage to an airport.

Quito has warned that any attempt to enter the embassy and seize Mr Assange would constitute an assault on Ecuador's sovereignty and would be tantamount to an “invasion”.

Last night, in an announcement that sparked rumours that Mr Assange might be willing to court arrest, WikiLeaks said its founder would give a statement at 2pm on Sunday “outside the Ecuadorean embassy”.

The brief statement on Twitter was surprising because it has generally been assumed that diplomatic immunity ends at the front door of the embassy.

A crisis in relations with much of South America is brewing as a result of the Foreign Office's earlier apparent threat to snatch the WikiLeaks founder from the Ecuadorian embassy.

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