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LONDON: Britain came under pressure on Monday after Ecuador’s South American neighbours backed Quito’s decision to grant Julian Assange asylum, as he remained a virtual prisoner in its London embassy.
Foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), meeting in Ecuador’s biggest city Guayaquil, expressed “solidarity” with the decision to give asylum to the WikiLeaks founder, whose anti-secrecy website has enraged Washington.
They also declared support for Ecuador over the “threat of violation of its diplomatic mission”, a reference to Britain highlighting an obscure 1987 law under which its police could enter the embassy and extract Assange.
A joint statement issued at the end of the meeting did however urge Ecuador and Britain “to pursue dialogue in search of a mutually acceptable solution”.
The British government reiterated that it would not grant Assange safe passage to Ecuador, but said it was seeking a diplomatic solution.
Assange made a defiant appearance from the balcony of the Ecuador embassy on Sunday, accusing the United States of conducting a “witch hunt” against WikiLeaks and praising Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa’s “courage”. Assange walked into the embassy two months ago to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and molestation made by two female WikiLeaks volunteers.
He made no direct reference to the allegations in his speech on Sunday, which was made from the balcony because Britain has said he will be arrested if he sets foot outside the embassy.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman said Britain was “obliged” to carry out the extradition of the 41-year-old Australian to Sweden, but added that the government was still trying to find a solution through diplomacy.
“Under our law, having exhausted all the options of appeal, we are obliged to extradite him to Sweden. It is our intention to carry out that obligation,” the spokesman said.
“We will continue talking to the Ecuadoran government and others to try to find a diplomatic solution.” Assange and his supporters say the allegations in Sweden are politically motivated and that he will eventually be extradited to the United States.
WikiLeaks angered the United States by releasing tens of thousands of classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as often unflattering reports of US diplomats’ views on world leaders.
Assange on Sunday called for US soldier Bradley Manning, the alleged source of the trove of secret government documents leaked by WikiLeaks, to be released from a military prison, claiming he had undergone harsh treatment in detention.
Addressing around 200 of his supporters who came to hear the speech in an upmarket district of London, Assange criticised the suggestion that Britain could revoke the embassy’s diplomatic status and enter the building.
“If the UK did not throw away the Vienna Conventions the other night, that is because the world was watching,” he claimed.
He also alleged that on the day before he was granted asylum he could hear “teams of police swarming up into the building through its internal fire escape”. The embassy occupies a small part of the red-brick mansion block.
Britain insists it never threatened to invade the building and merely made the Ecuadoran government aware of the existence of the law.
Britain is already at loggerheads with UNASUR member Argentina, which claims sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. -- AFP