Ecuador says ready to shelter Assange for years
UNITED NATIONS - Agence France-Presse
AFP PhotoEcuador said yesterday it is prepared to shelter Julian Assange inside its London embassy for years if necessary as it negotiates the WikiLeaks founder's fate with Britain and Sweden.
Assange meanwhile called on the United States to halt its "persecution" of WikiLeaks and its supporters in a video link message at the UN headquarters organized by Ecuador.
Assange will spend his 100th day in the embassy on Thursday as British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino hold talks on the activist, who is wanted in Sweden for questioning on charges of sexual assault but fears eventual extradition to the United States.
Patino told diplomats, officials and journalists at the UN meeting that his government was ready to protect Assange for 10 years if necessary.
"Absolutely we are prepared. Mr Assange we suppose is too, because he made the decision to request asylum and he knew the implications," Patino said.
"We are willing to withstand any situations that arise," Patino added. "We are not going to go back on our decision." Patino said he would reiterate the demand that Assange be given safe passage when he meets Hague on Thursday in New York.
"I speak to you today as a free man," Assange said in his address from the embassy in London, which is surrounded by British police.
The 41-year-old Australian criticized the "fine words" of the US president for saying that the United States had supported the Arab Spring uprisings.
"Tunisian history did not begin in 2010 and Mohammed Bouazizi did not set himself on fire so that Barack Obama could be reelected," Assange said.
He added that WikiLeaks had published documents which showed that former Tunisian dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali "had for long years enjoyed the indifference, the support of the United States, in full knowledge of his excesses and his crimes." "It is disrespectful to the dead and to the incarcerated of the various uprisings to claim that the United States supported the forces of change," he added.
"It is time for the United States to cease its persecution of WikiLeaks, to cease its persecution of our people and cease its persecution of our alleged sources," Assange said.
Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in London on June 19 after exhausting appeals against extradition from Britain to Sweden.
Assange says the case is political and orchestrated by the United States, which was infuriated by WikiLeaks's release of thousands of US frontline war reports from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as confidential diplomatic cables.
He fears that if extradited, Sweden will hand him over to the United States, where he could face prosecution.