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Ecuador says WikiLeaks founder Assange is seeking asylum

By the CNN Wire Staff
June 20, 2012 -- Updated 0027 GMT (0827 HKT)
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has formally requested asylum from his location at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has formally requested asylum from his location at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • British foreign office acknowledges Julian Assange's asylum request
  • He has been under house arrest in Britain since 2010
  • The WikiLeaks founder is fighting extradition to Sweden
  • Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden on sexual assault allegations

London (CNN) -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and has requested political asylum, officials and WikiLeaks said Tuesday.

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino read a statement to reporters at a news conference in Quito. He took no questions.

Assange has been fighting for a year and a half against being sent to Sweden for questioning about accusations of sexual abuse. Two women accused him in August 2010 of sexually assaulting them during a visit to Sweden in connection with a WikiLeaks release of internal U.S. military documents.

"Julian Assange has requested political asylum and is under the protection of the Ecuadorian embassy in London," WikiLeaks wrote on its Twitter page.

The embassy also released a statement on its website saying Assange, an Australian, arrived there in the afternoon and will remain at the embassy while his application is assessed.

"The decision to consider Mr. Assange's application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden," the statement said.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom last week dismissed an application filed by an attorney for Assange seeking to reopen his appeal against extradition.

The application was Assange's last option in the British courts. Britain's Crown Prosecution Service has previously said if the court dismissed Assange's appeal, his only further remedy would be to apply immediately to the European Court of Human Rights, and Assange's attorneys have vowed to do so.

Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office acknowledged Assange's request for political asylum in a statement, and said it would work with Ecuadorian authorities to "resolve this situation as soon as possible."

Assange has not been charged with a crime, but Swedish prosecutors want to question him about allegations of "unlawful coercion and sexual misconduct including rape," according to a Supreme Court document.

He has been under house arrest in Britain since December 2010. Assange has maintained his innocence and claims the allegations against him are politically motivated. He fears that if he is extradited to Sweden, authorities there could hand him over to the United States, where he then could be prosecuted for his role in the leaking of classified documents.

WikiLeaks, which facilitates the anonymous leaking of secret information, has published some 250,000 confidential U.S. diplomatic cables, causing embarrassment to the government and others. It also has published hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents relating to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Recently, the organization has come under financial pressure, leading Assange to announce that WikiLeaks was temporarily stopping publication to "aggressively fund raise" in order to stay afloat.

An announcement at the top of WikiLeaks' home page reads: "We are forced to put all our efforts into raising funds to ensure our economic survival."

During his wait for the Supreme Court to rule on his extradition, Assange has hosted a talk show on Russian TV. "The World Tomorrow" appears on the Kremlin-funded, pro-Russian network Russia Today. He hosted it from the Suffolk, England, mansion where he is under house arrest with an electronic bracelet monitoring his movements.

He has interviewed controversial figures at odds with the U.S. government, including Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, which the United States considers a terrorist organization, and Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, who railed against the United States in his interview with Assange.

In 2010, a statement from Ecuador's foreign ministry appeared to offer the controversial Assange an invitation to discuss a trove of leaked documents. The ministry also offered to process a request for residency, if Assange chose.

But a later statement from the Ecuadorian Embassy in the United States said that was not the case.

"While there was some confusion in the media flowing out of Quito yesterday, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has clarified that his country has not invited WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange to Ecuador," the statement read.

In Ecuador, Correa said at the time that his country had not made a formal invitation to Assange and that the ministry declaration, made by Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas, was "spontaneous" and personal in nature.

WikiLeaks founder Assange to make debut as talk show host

CNN en Español's Bertha Ramos-Rodriguez contributed to this report.

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