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Ecuador, Sweden break legal impasse over Assange questioning

Sweden has reached an agreement with Ecuador for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be questioned by Swedish authorities over rape allegation. Assange avoided extradition by taking refuge inside Ecuador's embassy.

Assange has been

holed up for more than three years inside Ecuador's London embassy

to avoid facing sexual assault charges in Sweden.

The 44-year-old Australian denies any wrongoing and says the charges are a ruse to have him handed to the United States, where he stands accused of presiding over Wikileaks, which disclosed hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010.

Ecuador has now come to an agreement with Sweden that would allow Assange to be questioned by Swedish police inside the embassy. The South American country granted him asylum in 2010 and has allowed him to live inside its London embassy.

"The agreement is, with no doubts, an instrument that strengthens bilateral relations and will facilitate, for example, the fulfillment of judicial matters such as the questioning of Mr. Assange, who is granted asylum in the embassy of Ecuador in London," said a statement from Ecuador's foreign ministry.

Virtual house arrest

London Botschaft Ecuador Polizeibewachung

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange took refuge inside Ecuador's London embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden

The Swedish cabinet is due to approve the agreement in coming days.

Assange's attorney has also welcomed the breakthrough which has been a source of tension between the two countries.

"We are glad that Ecuador and Sweden have reached an agreement for judicial co-operation," Baltasar Garzon, coordinator of Assange's international legal team, told the Press Association in Britain. "The most important thing now is that it must provide the appropriate legal guarantees."

Swedish prosecutors had offered in March to question Assange in London, dropping their previous demand that he come to Sweden to answer to the 2010 criminal charges.

But Ecuador refused to allow such a meeting until a bilateral judicial agreement was in place.

Prosecutors

dropped a sexual assault probe against Assange

this summer after the five-year statute of limitations expired. But he is still wanted for questioning over an alleged rape, which carries a 10-year statute of limitations that only expires in 2020.

Britain, which at one time

threatened to storm the embassy

to capture Assange, also welcomed the agreement.

"It is for the Swedish prosecutor to decide how they now proceed with a legal case," a spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office said.

jar/gsw (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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