Ecuador has given citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as part of its efforts to allow him to leave the country’s London embassy where he has been holed up for more than five years, Reuters reports.
Ecuador made the move hours after Britain refused a request from the South American nation for Assange to be given diplomatic status, which could give him immunity from arrest should he try to leave the embassy, the report said.
Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said she hopes to find a solution to the Assange issue.
“Ecuador is currently exploring other solutions in dialogue with the UK, like good offices of renowned authorities, other states, or international organizations that could facilitate a just, final and dignified solution for all parties,” the minister told a press conference in Quito, according to Reuters.
Britain sees only one resolution to the diplomatic standoff.
“Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice,” said a British Foreign Office spokesman.
Assange has been living in Ecuador’s embassy in London since he was granted asylum there in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sexual molestation case.
Swedish prosecutors dropped their probe into the allegations but British police said Assange would be arrested for breaching bail conditions should he leave the building.
Assange, who denies the allegations, believes Sweden will hand him over to the US to face prosecution over WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents in one of the largest information leaks in US history.
“There are well-founded fears we have about possible risks to his life and integrity, not necessarily by the UK but by third party states,” Espinosa said.
She did not give details on how granting Assange citizenship might help him leave the embassy and avoid arrest.
For many observers, Assange is a cyber hero for exposing government abuses of power and championing free speech but to others he is a criminal who has undermined the security of the West by exposing secrets.
Assange faces both criminal and congressional investigations in the United States.
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