Fugitive Assange faces arrest as soon as he leaves Ecuador embassy


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The Independent Online

Julian Assange was warned last night he faces immediate arrest if he leaves the Ecuadorean embassy after his surprise bid for asylum sparked a diplomatic tussle.

The WikiLeaks founder has holed himself up inside the South American country's London embassy in an attempt to escape extradition to Sweden on sex-assault claims. Foreign Office officials admitted that the Australian-born campaigner remains "beyond the reach" of officers as long as he stays on the property.

But even if Ecuador grants him asylum, any attempt by the 40-year-old to travel to Quito could result in his arrest as soon as he steps out of the embassy door, unless a deal is reached.

Mr Assange's flight to the embassy in Knightsbridge is the latest extraordinary twist in his long-running campaign to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations he sexually assaulted two women. He fears the move would bring him a step closer to extradition to the United States.

The alleged victims' lawyer described Mr Assange's asylum claim as a "tragedy for the women".

Police confirmed they would seek Mr Assange's arrest for breaching bail conditions. A handful of followers and friends stood vigil outside the embassy.

Gavin MacFayden, a friend of Mr Assange and the director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, said the WikiLeaks founder was in "good humour" but had yet to be told whether his asylum claim would be successful.

Mr Assange's fate is now largely hostage to diplomatic negotiations and whether Ecuador is willing to incur the wrath of Britain, the United States and Sweden over one man.

But his decision to seek sanctuary with the Ecuadoreans appears carefully planned. The country's president, Rafael Correa, has spoken in glowing terms of Mr Assange.

Mr Correa is under fire back home for clamping down on a critical press and many Ecuadoreans have speculated that – with an election coming up next year – handing a lifeline to Mr Assange would boost his popularity.