Assange asylum diplomatic row deepens

Aug. 17, 2012 at 10:16 AM
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LONDON, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- An international diplomatic row over Ecuador's grant of asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deepened Friday as Sweden joined Britain in criticizing the Latin American country for its decision.

Amid warnings that Britain could be dragged into another polemical quarrel with Latin America, similar to the Falklands Islands controversy led by Argentina, Swedish government officials denied any link between the criminal investigation facing Assange over alleged sex assaults and his role in embarrassing leaks of U.S. diplomatic cables.

Sweden found it "unacceptable that Ecuador would want to halt the Swedish judicial process," the Foreign Ministry in Stockholm said.

Britain likewise has said it must honor its obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden to face an investigation on complaints of sexual assault filed by two women.

The women's lawyer, Claes Borgstrom, has said the case is likely to follow a normal procedure that will include an interrogation by the prosecutor who will then decide whether to prosecute Assange.

"There's no demand from the United States that he should be extradited to the U.S.," Brogstrom said in comments quoted in British and Swedish media.

Support for Assange to go to Stockholm and face the interrogation has grown in the constituency of his supporters, many of whom now want the Assange case in Sweden separated from the WikiLeaks movement.

Analysts said Ecuador could face a legal challenge for granting Assange asylum while he faces sexual assault allegations rather than any charges related to his WikiLeaks role.

Several Latin American organizations have announced urgent meetings on the dispute and some have interpreted the diplomatic exchanges as a British threat to raid the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

The Organization of American States, of which Ecuador is a member, was to meet in Washington to discuss the diplomatic row.

Ecuador's OAS Ambassador Maria Isabel Salvador proposed the meeting to consider "threats by the U.K. against Ecuador and its diplomatic premises in that country," where Assange has been living since June 19.

Salvador said Ecuador received a British communication warning it "should be aware that there is a legal basis in the United Kingdom, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act of 1987, which would allow us to take action to arrest Mr. Assange in the existing facilities of the embassy."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, "There is no threat here to storm an embassy. We are talking about an Act of Parliament in this country which stresses that it must be used in full conformity with international law."

Also, this weekend, the foreign ministers from the "Bolivarian Alliance for our America," the brainchild of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, will meet in Guayaquil, Ecuador, to address the dispute over Assange.

The Union of South American Nations called another meeting on the dispute on Sunday, also at Guayaquil.

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