Ecuador has demanded an apology from Britain for an alleged threat to enter the embassy sheltering Julian Assange as he seeks to avoid extradition to Sweden. Britain denies that any such threat was ever made.
Last week, Ecuador formally announced that the country would grant asylum to the 41-year-old, who has resided at the embassy since June 19. Since that announcement, Ecuador has charged that Britain threatened to lift the embassy's diplomatic immunity and arrest Assange.
The official line from Britain is that it merely reminded Ecuador of the legal status of the embassy: basically, that the UK could suspend its diplomatic status and enter the premises. Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said that, though Britain has denied making the explicit threat, his country is still waiting for an apology.
"If this impasse was with another country held in higher regard, the public apology would have been imminent," Patino said. "We were waiting for that, not for the denial of what was done."
Ecuador called a meeting of the 34-member Organization of American States - representing every country in the Americas except Cuba - to consider a resolution backing the embassy's "inviolability." Though 23 nations voted to convene the meeting, only 12 foreign ministers actually made it to Washington, DC, Friday, with the United States and Canada both questioning the relevancy of the issue to the regional body. During a debate before those who showed up, Patino called the alleged threat an "assault on our sovereignty."
"The threat has already been made and continues in effect because it has not been withdrawn," Patino said. "Ecuador does not accept such an intrusion," he added. "No country can treat another as a colony. Those times are long gone."
Assange took refuge in the embassy to escape extradition to Sweden, which wants him to answer to assault allegations. He fears further extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on treason charges after his whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks unleashed a torrent of leaked US State Department dispatches starting in late 2010. Britain has said that it would refuse to grant Assange safe conduct out of the country
mkg/pfd (AFP, dpa)