Sun, May 20, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Why Ecuador wants Assange out of its London embassy

The Ecuadoran president is losing patience with the WikiLeaks founder, whom he calls his ‘inherited problem’

By Dan Collyns  /  The Guardian

In his first year in office, Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno called Assange a “hacker,” an “inherited problem” and a “stone in the shoe.” The language could not be clearer — Moreno has made it plain that the world’s most famous lodger has overstayed his welcome in Ecuador’s London embassy.

Nearly six years ago, it was a different story.

When Ecuador granted Assange political asylum on Aug. 16, 2012, then-Ecuadoran minister of foreign affairs Ricardo Patino said Ecuador believed that the WikiLeaks founder’s fear of persecution was legitimate and praised “his dedicated defense of freedom of expression” in a speech in Quito.

However, what was expected to be a stopover turned into a lengthy sojourn and Assange became one of the world’s most high-profile fugitives. During the past six years, he has refused to step out of the embassy building, fearing that he would be arrested by British police and extradited to the US for questioning over WikiLeaks’ activities.

Sweden dropped its investigation into alleged sexual offences, because it was unable to question Assange, but he remains subject to arrest in the UK for jumping bail.

Even his one-time champion Rafael Correa, who was president of Ecuador from 2007 to last year, told journalists in Madrid that Assange’s “days were numbered.”

Correa said that Moreno, his former protege with whom he is now bitterly at odds, would “throw [Assange] out of the embassy at the first pressure from the United States.”

Assange’s behavior has not endeared him to his hosts. For instance, his tweets in favor of Catalan independence are said to have annoyed the Spanish government, souring relations between Madrid and Quito.

WikiLeaks’ publication of e-mails connected to US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election might be another reason why Ecuadoran Minister of Foreign Affairs Maria Fernanda Espinosa at the start of this year said that Assange’s continued stay was “unsustainable.”

Moreno has been seeking to build bridges with the US, restoring trade ties that were damaged in recent years.

A poll in March showed that 76.2 percent of Ecuadorans wanted the government to expel Assange from the embassy.

In March, Ecuador cut off Assange’s Internet connection, saying that it had acted because he had breached an agreement not to issue messages that might interfere with other states.

In a statement, the government said his behavior on social media “put at risk the good relations [Ecuador] maintains with the United Kingdom, with the other states of the European Union, and with other nations.”

Ecuador seems to be hoping that Assange’s uncomfortable confinement will become intolerable.

It is difficult to see how Assange can leave the embassy and not end up being arrested for breach of bail, which could lead to him being imprisoned.

Ecuador has explored a number of other ideas, none of which seems feasible.

In January, the Ecuadoran Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Assange had been made an Ecuadoran citizen in an attempt to resolve the impasse over his continued stay at the embassy.

The British Foreign Office responded by saying: “Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.”

Espinosa is one of two candidates campaigning to be elected the 73rd president of the UN General Assembly next month. Some in Ecuador have speculated that she might appoint Assange as Ecuador’s United Nations representative to get him UN diplomatic status so he can leave the UK.

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