Assange: British threat to enter embassy raises the stakes

As the time approaches for Ecuador's decision, how will President Correa react to UK's arrest threat?

LAST UPDATED AT 09:18 ON Thu 16 Aug 2012

EDITOR'S UPDATE: Julian Assange has been awarded political asylum by Ecuador, it was announced in Quito at 1.38pm today, British time. In a lengthy statement, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said there were fears Assange's human rights might be violated if he is extradited by Britain to Sweden.

THE threat by British authorities to enter the Ecuadorean embassy in London to arrest Julian Assange, wanted for extradition to Sweden, risks "accomplishing the unthinkable" and uniting Ecuador's political forces behind President Rafael Correa, says BBC correspondent Arturo Wallace.

With the police presence outside the embassy in Knightsbridge increasing, the country's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, addressed reporters in Quito yesterday, clearly furious at the British threat.

"Today we received from the United Kingdom an express threat, in writing, that they might storm our embassy in London if we don't hand over Julian Assange," Patino said.

"Ecuador rejects in the most emphatic terms the explicit threat of the British official communication."

Patino went on: "If the measure announced in the British official communication is enacted, it will be interpreted by Ecuador as an unacceptable, unfriendly and hostile act and as an attempt against our sovereignty. It would force us to respond.

"We are not a British colony."   

The threat to enter the embassy and arrest the WikiLeaks founder, who took shelter there eight weeks ago, came in a letter sent via the British embassy in Quito, which Patino made available to reporters. It read:

"You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the embassy.

"We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange's presence in your premises, this is an open option for us.

"We need to reiterate that we consider the continued use of the diplomatic premises in this way incompatible with the Vienna Convention and unsustainable and we have made clear the serious implications that this has for our diplomatic relations."

Today, at 1pm British time, Ecuador is expected to formally announce its decision on whether it will grant Assange political asylum.

Yesterday, it was being mooted that President Correa's expected offer to grant asylum was a symbolic gesture only and that Ecuador would be unable to deliver on its promise, because of the impracticality of spiriting Assange out of Britain.

Now Correa's critics in Ecuador are waiting to see whether the threat to enter the embassy will encourage the president to stand up to Britain. As the BBC's correspondent says, they "fear any violation of Ecuador's sovereignty would strengthen Mr Correa and could turn him into a hero".

If Correa does grant Assange asylum, a continued stand-off seems inevitable.

The Guardian says analysts in Quito do not expect Britain to carry out its threat to enter the embassy. Julio Echeverria of Quito's Flasco University said Britain "has a long-established tradition in Europe of respecting diplomatic missions", which under international law are considered sovereign territory.

And as The Week reported yesterday, any attempt to move Assange from the embassy to an airport will result in his immediate arrest – unless subterfuge is employed. And that would open a diplomatic can of worms. · 

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...just how much pressure is the USA putting on Britain? - Sweden is simply a stooge of the US in this drama - I hope that the analysts in Ecuador have factored this into their calculations!!!

This is twisting justice, any criminal could claim asylum on this basis. However, Assange is now in prison idefinitely, confined to the walls of the Embassy. Good thing is, its at the expense of the Ecuadorean taxpayer.

I call upon all citizens of the world, the common people, the general masses, not please with British action against Diplomatic Immunity to make it difficult for all Diplomatic personnel and embassies all over the world so they get a taste of their own medicine. They are not absolute!" British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Sir Tony Brenton should kneel before US officials and do a better job.

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