Julian Assange, the head of Wikileaks, has fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patrino said.
Assange, 40, an Australian citizen, was ordered returned to Sweden, where he faces trial on two rape charges. Assange denied the charges but lost his last appeals against extradition in the Supreme Court of England.
Wilileaks posted notice of Assange's asylum push with an alert. It also promised more details on the Ecuadorian situation soon. Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, is an leftist suually opposed to U.S. policies, who invited Assange to seek asylum in his country in the past.
Barring a reprieve by the European Court of Justice, the Wikileaks head was ordered to be sent to Stockholm as early as June 28.
Assange had been granted bail to stay with a wealthy British supporter in the countryside.
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Wikileaks came to international prominence by posting government documents on the Internet exposing military and diplomatic secrets of the U.S. and other countries in 2010. For the U.S. they exposed inside details of the planning for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as diplomatic cables dealing with crises in Libya, Syria and Egypt.
In the U.S., army private Bradley Manning has been charged with 22 counts oif stealing masses of classified documents and delivering them to Wikileaks for publication. Manning has been standing trial in military court in Fort Meade, Md. On June 8, a military judge declined to dismiss most of the charges but didn't set a trial date. Manning could face life imprisonment if convicted.
Assange, a former computer hacker, has said Wikileaks maintains a network of secure computer servers in several countries, believed to include Switzerland, but has not divuilged precise details. He has told interviewers he fears retaliation by angry governments.
Assange also claims the rape charges brought by two women in Sweden are unfounded and were brought as part of a smear campaign. But their lawyer has said the Australian computer programmer forced them into sex and ought to be brought to trial. The lawyer, Claes Borgstrom, sought the extradition from England and hailed the Supreme Court's decision as an obvious and expected decision that has been delayed too long.
Ecuador, as a sovereign nation, could grant Assange asylum. But there's no way it could guarantee his immunity from extradition if he left its London embassy. By international law, foreign embassies are regarded as territorial possessions of the country and can't be entered by police or military officials. One of the greatest violations of that principle was the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November 1979 by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, who held the embassy staff hostage for the next 444 days.