|Julian Assange seeking asylum in Ecuadorean embassy in London|
|Written by Esther Addley and Beatrice Woolf|
|Wednesday, 20 June 2012 16:27|
Source: The Guardian
Julian Assange has dramatically sought political asylum at the Ecuadorean embassy in London, days after the supreme court rejected the last of his appeals against extradition to Sweden to face sex crime accusations and after what he called a "declaration of abandonment" by his own government in Australia.
In a move that appears to have surprised even some of his closest supporters, the WikiLeaks founder walked into the country's embassy in Knightsbridge and asked for asylum, citing the UN declaration of human rights.
"I can confirm I arrived at the Ecuadorean embassy and sought diplomatic sanctuary and political asylum," Assange said in a statement.
"This application has been passed to the ministry of foreign affairs in the capital Quito. I am grateful to the Ecuadorean ambassador and the government of Ecuador for considering my application."
The audacious bid came less than a week after the supreme court finally rejected his appeal against extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in connection with accusations of the rape of one woman and sexual assault on another in August 2010, which he denies.
Assange and his supporters have argued that his removal to Sweden could be followed by a possible onward extradition to the US on potential espionage charges, saying he is at risk of the death penalty.
The US government opened a grand jury investigation in May 2011 into the passing of hundreds of thousands of secret US embassy cables to WikiLeaks, the first stage in a process of deciding whether or not to prosecute Assange. No request for extradition to the US has been made, however.
In a statement on its site, WikiLeaks said that in a meeting with Assange's legal adviser in May, the Australian government had issued "an effective 'declaration of abandonment', refusing to protect Mr Assange, or make any requests on his behalf".
Assange had been given until 28 June to lodge an appeal against the UK court's decision at the European court of human rights in Strasbourg. Some legal commentators have doubted whether Assange would have strong grounds to take his appeal to the court in Strasbourg.
He may have decided on his dramatic switch in tactics having been discouraged about his chances of success in Europe's highest court. Assange is currently on £240,000 police bail, a sum posted by a number of high-profile friends and supporters. Last month Assange interviewed the socialist Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa for his TV show The World Tomorrow, broadcast on the Russian state-sponsored channel Russia Today. The WikiLeaks founder described Correa as "a leftwing populist who has changed the face of Ecuador".