UK & World News
'No Safe Passage Out Of UK For Assange'
Foreign Secretary William Hague has insisted that the Government would not allow Julian Assange safe passage out of the UK as the WikiLeaks founder promised to make his first public appearance for five months at the weekend.
Britain and Ecuador are locked in a diplomatic stand-off over the WikiLeaks founder after he was granted political asylum by the South American country.
Mr Hague has responded by saying the UK Government is "determined" to see Mr Assange extradited and that political asylum should not be used to escape the normal court process.
The Foreign Secretary told a news conference: "We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the UK, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so.
"The UK does not accept the principle of diplomatic asylum."
The situation could go on for a considerable time and there is no threat to storm the Ecuadorian embassy in London where Mr Assange is taking refuge, Mr Hague added.
Shortly after the Government statement, WikiLeaks announced on Twitter that Mr Assange will give a live statement in front of the Ecuadorian embassy on Sunday at 2pm.
A second tweet said: "Sunday the 19th is two months exactly since Assange entered the embassy. It will be his first public apperance (sic) since March."
Earlier in the day the WikiLeaks founder watched on television from inside the embassy in London's Knightsbridge, as foreign minister Ricardo Patino made the announcement in Quito.
Mr Assange, who has been living in the building for 56 days in a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, welcomed the decision but warned the battle to protect his organisation would go on.
"I am grateful to the Ecuadorian people, President Rafael Correa and his government. It was not Britain or my home country, Australia, that stood up to protect me from persecution, but a courageous, independent Latin American nation," he said.
"While today is a historic victory, our struggles have just begun. The unprecedented US investigation against WikiLeaks must be stopped."
Mr Patino said Ecuador believed the Australian faces a real threat of political persecution, including the prospect of extradition to the US where he said he would not get a fair trial.
"It is not impossible that he would be treated in a cruel manner, condemned to life in prison, or even the death penalty," he said, adding: "Ecuador is convinced that his procedural rights have been violated."
Sweden called the decision "unacceptable", accused Ecuador of trying to block its judicial process and summoned its ambassador to a meeting.
The Australian, 41, sought sanctuary in the embassy in June after losing his latest legal bid to avoid deportation to the Scandinavian country, where he is wanted for questioning over sexual assault allegations.
His lawyers say he fears he could be extradited to the US from there and then tried over WikiLeaks' publication of thousands of documents and logs that seriously embarrassed America.
Ecuador had been in negotiations with the UK, Sweden and the US, but these soured on Wednesday after its government received a letter from British officials.
The letter warned there was a legal basis to arrest Mr Assange at the embassy, if it continued to shield him, and spoke of "serious implications" for diplomatic relations.
Under international law, diplomatic posts are considered the territory of the foreign nation but the Foreign Office is allowed to revoke this status if it is being abused.
It would take seven days to implement the legal process allowing for an arrest inside the building because the Government would have to give notice.
A furious Mr Patino made clear on Wednesday that his country regarded this as an "explicit threat" by Britain which would be a flagrant breach of international law if carried out.
WikiLeaks added: "A threat of this nature is a hostile and extreme act which is not proportionate to the circumstances and an unprecedented assault on the rights of asylum seekers worldwide."
But a British Government source told Sky News: "It's not a threat, it's British law."
Supporters of the WikiLeaks founder descended on the embassy on Thursday and clashed with the scores of police on duty outside. Three protesters were arrested.
Demonstrators, who had been chanting "Julian Assange - Freedom Fighter" and "Hands Off Ecuador", cheered as news of the asylum decision filtered through.
Mr Assange's mother Christine has suggested the US is behind Britain's trenchant approach and called on Australia's attorney general to protest.
"What the US wants, the US gets from its allies, regardless of if it's legal or it it's ethical or in breach of human or legal rights. We're all lackeys," she told reporters in Australia.
But the US insisted it was not involved in the diplomatic row, denying charges it was pressuring Britain to seize him.