Sunday 23 October 2016

Julian Assange to Leave Ecuadorian Embassy 'Soon'

Aditi Khanna/London
File-AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange today said he would "soon" leave the Ecuadorian embassy here after being holed up at the mission for over two years, but he gave no specifics, amid reports that the whistleblower has developed life-threatening ailments that require treatment.

The 43-year-old Australian national, who looked pale and sported a beard, refused to elaborate on the timeframe as he addressed journalists alongside Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino at the embassy in Knightsbridge, central London.

Assange said WikiLeaks' spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson had "said that he can confirm I am leaving the embassy soon".

Many reports have suggested that the anti-secrecy campaigner, reportedly battling heart defect and chronic lung condition, needs medical treatment for his ailments.

The embassy offers Assange no outdoor space or direct sunlight, making for uncomfortable living conditions.

"There has been two years of great uncertainty and a lack of legal protection. This situation must come to an end. Two years is simply too long...We continue to offer him our protection," said Patino.

"It is time to free Julian Assange. It is time for his human rights to finally be respected," he added.

Patino is set to meet with British foreign secretary Philip Hammond in the next few weeks to discuss ways to resolve the situation.

But speaking after the press conference, Hrafnsson said Assange would only be able to leave the embassy when the UK government "calls off the siege".

"The plan is for him to leave as soon as the UK government decides to honour its obligations in relation to international agreements and calls off the siege outside - it's as simple as that."

Assange, whose website WikiLeaks published a huge tranche of secret US military and diplomatic documents that embarrassed the American government, has been living inside the Ecuadorian embassy building after he was granted asylum there in August 2012.

Assange is under continued surveillance and faces arrest on leaving the embassy building.

Scotland Yard officers have been stationed outside the building round-the-clock for two years now. The Metropolitan Police has estimated the cost of policing at 6.4 million pounds, including 1.1 million pounds for police overtime.

Assange had initially anticipated a diplomatic solution to his problems would be reached within a couple of months. But that did not happen.

He also faces an arrest warrant in Sweden for alleged sexual assaults on two women. Assange denies the charges.

Assange fears that from Sweden he will be extradited to the US, where he could face 35 years in prison for his spectacular disclosures related to the Pentagon's activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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