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Assange expects to stay up to a year in Ecuador embassy
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Thursday that he expects to spend up to a year in Ecuador's London embassy and for Sweden to drop rape charges against him. He was given asylum in Ecuador, but faces arrest if he leaves the embassy.
REUTERS - Julian Assange expects to wait six months to a year for a deal to free him from Ecuador’s embassy in London, and hopes Sweden will drop its case against him, the WikiLeaks’ founder said in an interview broadcast on Thursday.
The former computer hacker has been holed up at the embassy for more than two months, seeking to avoid being sent to Sweden for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations – and triggering a diplomatic spat with Britain.
Talks over Assange’s fate resumed this week, and Ecuador’s government said it was optimistic it will be able to strike a deal with Britain for Assange to receive guarantees he would not be further extradited from Sweden to the United States.
Ecuador granted him asylum earlier this month saying that it shares his fears that he could face charges in the United States over the publication in 2010 by WikiLeaks of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables.
“I think the situation will be solved through diplomacy ... The Swedish government could drop the case. I think this is the most likely scenario. Maybe after a thorough investigation of what happened they could drop the case,” Assange told Ecuador’s Gama television network in comments dubbed into Spanish.
“I think this will be solved in between six and 12 months; that’s what I estimate,” he said in the interview, which was recorded earlier this week inside the embassy.
Britain says it is legally obliged to extradite Assange to Sweden, and that it will not allow the 41-year-old Australian to leave the embassy and travel to the South American country.
But Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said on Wednesday he was optimistic the British government would agree to give Assange written guarantees that he would not be extradited from Sweden to any third country.
Ecuador has said that if Assange received such assurances, he would decline its offer of asylum and hand himself over to Swedish prosecutors. Asked during the interview if he could travel to Sweden under those conditions, he was non-committal.
“At some point, if the way has been paved ... it would not be correct to hold me in prison (in Sweden) without charges.”
He did not mention the allegations of rape and sexual assault made against him by two WikiLeaks supporters in 2010.
A veiled British threat to enter the embassy to arrest Assange angered Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa. But the leftist leader said last weekend that the threat had later been lifted and he considered the “unfortunate incident” over.
In another sign of thawing tensions, Ecuador’s Vice President Lenin Moreno met British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Wednesday, but any deal looks likely to take time.
“Given Ecuador’s position on what they call diplomatic asylum and our very clear legal position, such a solution is not in sight at the moment,” Hague told the BBC on Thursday.