Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to leave Ecuadorian embassy in London ‘soon’

WikiLeaksfounder confirms media reports that he will leave the Ecuadorean mission in London, but denies claims of poor health

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 4:49pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2014, 12:45pm

Watch: Assange says will leave London embassy 'soon'

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sowed confusion yesterday with an announcement that appeared to indicate he was leaving his embassy bolt hole, but his spokesman later clarified that that would not happen unless the impasse over his extradition was resolved.

Assange made the cryptic comments during a press conference at the Ecuadorean embassy in London following a meeting with Ricardo Patino, the Latin American nation's foreign minister.

When asked about speculation - some of it sparked by a recent interview with a British newspaper - that the 43-year-old Australian was ready to leave the embassy to seek medical treatment, Assange declined to answer directly, instead pointing to Kristinn Hrafnsson, the WikiLeaks spokesman, who was in the back of the room.

"He said I can confirm that I am leaving the embassy soon, but perhaps not for the reasons that [the media] are saying," Assange said.

He refused to elaborate on the awkwardly worded statement.

British media have reported, quoting a WikiLeaks source, that he was suffering from the potentially life-threatening heart condition arrhythmia and had a chronic lung complaint as well as high blood pressure.

Leaving the embassy would be a big move for Assange, who has remained trapped in the building since he sought refuge there more than two years ago.

Assange is seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted over sex crimes allegations, or the United States, where authorities are investigating his spectacular disclosures of secret information.

As bewildered journalists huddled after the press conference, Hrafnsson said that what Assange meant to convey was that he was ready to leave the embassy as soon as the British government gave him the guarantees he was seeking, namely the right to travel freely to Ecuador where he has asylum.

"The plan is to leave as soon as the UK government decides to honour its obligations," Hrafnsson said, repeating Assange's long-held position.

That seems unlikely anytime soon.

Patino said yesterday negotiations between Ecuador and the UK remain deadlocked.

Asked about the Australian's health, Hrafnsson added: "He seemed pretty well to me."

A spokesman for Britain's Foreign Office indicated that its position on Assange's case was unchanged and that it remained "as committed as ever to reaching a diplomatic solution".

"We are clear that our laws must be followed and Mr Assange should be extradited to Sweden. As ever we look to Ecuador to help bring this difficult, and costly, situation to an end," he added.

Assange was accompanied at the press conference by Patino, who did not mention a plan for Assange to leave the embassy but called for the governments involved in his case to take action.

"The situation must come to an end - two years is simply too long," Patino said.

"We continue to offer him our protection ... we continue to be ready to talk with the British government and the Swedish government to find a solution to this serious breach of Julian Assange's human rights."

Patino is set to try and meet Britain's new foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, in a fresh push to reach a deal on the case.

Britain funds round-the-clock policing outside Ecuador's embassy in London's upscale Knightsbridge district due to Assange's presence.

In June, Scotland Yard said it had so far spent £6.4 million (HK$82.76 million) on guarding the building.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press