Nations call for discussion over Julian Assange

 

Foreign ministers from across South America have called for dialogue between the UK and Ecuador to resolve the row over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The ministers issued a statement of support for Ecuador following the meeting of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) in the country.

Mr Assange has been seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for two months.

The Australian made his first public appearance since he entered the building yesterday, calling on Washington to "renounce its witch-hunt" against his organisation.

In the statement, released after the 20-minute meeting, the ministers "condemned the threat of the use of force between states" and reiterated "the right of states to concede asylum".

They urged both nations to follow the "path of dialogue and direct negotiations" to reach a solution.

Mr Assange, who is wanted in Sweden for questioning on sexual assault allegations, thanked Ecuador for taking a "stand for justice" in giving him political asylum when he spoke from the embassy's balcony.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has made it clear Mr Assange will not be allowed safe passage out of the UK.

Mr Assange denies the allegations and fears being transferred to America if he travels to contest them.

He enraged the US government in 2010 when WikiLeaks published tranches of secret US diplomatic cables.

Unasur's meeting was held a day after Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Argentina endorsed Ecuador's asylum decision.

Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Chile are among Latin American nations that have not taken a stand.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Assange thanked Ecuador and other helpful South American nations and supporters around the world, plus his family, including his children "who have been denied their father".

He said: "Forgive me, we will be reunited soon."

Mr Assange also paid tribute to his supporters, saying: "Thank you for coming, thank you for your resolve, your generosity of spirit.

"On Wednesday night, after a threat was sent to this embassy, the police descended on this building. You came out in the middle of the night to watch over it, and you brought the world's eyes with you.

"Inside this embassy in the dark, I could hear teams of police swarming up inside the building through its internal fire escape.

"But I knew there would be witnesses, and that is because of you.

"If the UK did not throw away the Vienna Conventions the other night, it is because the world was watching. And the world was watching because you were watching."

He added: "We must use this moment to articulate the choice that is before the government of the United States of America.

"Will it return to and reaffirm the revolutionary values it was founded on or will it lurch off the precipice, dragging us all into a dangerous and oppressive world in which journalists fall silent under the fear of prosecution and citizens must whisper in the dark?

"I say it must turn back. I ask President Obama to do the right thing: the United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks."

He also called on the US to end its "war on whistleblowers", and demanded the release of Bradley Manning, a US army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking information, who is being held at an American military base.

He has been charged with transferring classified data and delivering national defence information to an unauthorised source and faces up to 52 years in jail.

Mr Assange described him as a hero and "an example to all of us".

His legal adviser Baltasar Garzon said Mr Assange had instructed his lawyers "to carry out a legal action" to protect his rights.

He said: "Julian Assange has always fought for truth and justice and has defended human rights and continues to do so.

"He demands that WikiLeaks and his own rights be respected.

"Julian Assange has instructed his lawyers to carry out a legal action in order to protect the rights of WikiLeaks, Julian himself and all those currently being investigated."

Ecuador has said it granted asylum because neither Britain nor Sweden would offer guarantees that they would not allow Mr Assange's extradition to the United States. Supporters of Mr Assange say they fear he has been secretly indicted by a grand jury in the US.

Ecuador's president Rafael Correa has said there is sufficient reason to fear Mr Assange, who published the largest trove of US secrets ever in 2010, would be denied due process in the United States and could face life in prison or even the death penalty.

PA

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