Expert says Assange now has 'nowhere to go'

Demonstrators protest outside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where Julian Assange sought asylum on Tuesday. TIM HALES / AP
Demonstrators protest outside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where Julian Assange sought asylum on Tuesday. TIM HALES / AP
Posted: June 21, 2012

LONDON - Julian Assange has spent years on the move, trying to keep ahead of authorities who want to stop his secret-spilling mission.

Now the WikiLeaks founder finds himself confined in Ecuador's London embassy, where he was holed up Wednesday while diplomats discussed his fate and British police waited outside to arrest him if he left.

Assange seeks political asylum in the South American nation in a dramatic bid to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning about alleged sex crimes. His supporters say he fears charges in the United States for leaking hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents. But some legal experts say it is a desperate and likely futile move.

"He knows he's reached the end of the road in the U.K. He knows he's going to be extradited to Sweden," said Alex Carlile, a senior British lawyer with expertise in extradition matters. "Basically, he has nowhere to go."

The 40-year-old Australian landed himself in legal limbo Tuesday when he took refuge in the embassy.

British police say Assange has violated the terms of his bail, which include an overnight curfew, and is subject to arrest. But British officials concede he is beyond their grasp as long as he stays in the embassy, which under legal convention is treated as Ecuadorean territory.

Ecuador's leftist president, Rafael Correa, who has offered words of support to the WikiLeaks chief and taken part in an interview with him, told the Associated Press that Assange's request was being considered.

"We are processing his request. Ecuador is a country of peace, freedom, and justice," he said, speaking at a climate summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Before reaching a decision, Ecuadorean authorities planned to examine the accusations against Assange in Sweden and analyze that country's laws as well as international accords, said an Ecuadorean official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

In London, Britain's foreign ministry said it would "work with the Ecuadorean authorities to resolve this situation as soon as possible." Ecuadorean ambassador Anna Alban said she had had "cordial and constructive" discussions with British officials on Wednesday.

Ecuador said Assange would "remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorean government" while authorities in the capital, Quito, considered his case.

Carlile said that even if Ecuador grants Assange asylum, he could find leaving Britain all but impossible.

"It's inconceivable that the U.K. government would give him safe passage" to an airport, Carlile said.

On Wednesday, police officers were stationed outside the apartment block that houses the embassy. They were joined by a small group of protesters waving "Free Assange" placards.

Assange was arrested in London in December 2010 at Sweden's request. Since then, he has been out on bail and fighting extradition to the Scandinavian country, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual assaults on two women in August 2010.

He denies the allegations and says the case against him is politically motivated. He also claims extradition could be a first step in efforts to remove him to the United States.

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