Ecuador says WikiLeaks' Assange suffering lung problems

QUITO Thu Nov 29, 2012 3:26am IST

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, speaking during a teleconference from Ecuador's embassy in central London, is pictured on a screen during a news conference in Brussels November 27, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, speaking during a teleconference from Ecuador's embassy in central London, is pictured on a screen during a news conference in Brussels November 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Vidal

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QUITO (Reuters) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is suffering from a chronic lung ailment that could worsen at any time and is being checked regularly by doctors, the Andean country's ambassador to Britain said on Wednesday.

Assange, 41, whose website angered the United States by releasing thousands of secret diplomatic cables, has been holed up inside Ecuador's embassy in London since June to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over rape and sexual assault allegations. Assange has denied any wrongdoing.

"He has a chronic lung complaint that could get worse any time. The Ecuadorean state is covering Mr Assange's medical costs and we have arranged for regular doctor visits to check on his health," Ambassador Ana Alban told a local TV network during a visit to Quito.

British authorities say Assange will be arrested if he sets foot outside the embassy. The building, located just behind London's famed Harrods department store, is under constant police surveillance.

Ecuador said last month it is worried about Assange's health and asked Britain to guarantee him safe passage to hospital from the embassy if he needs medical treatment.

That would allow him to return to the embassy after treatment with refugee status.

Assange took refuge in the embassy after running out of legal options to avoid being sent to Sweden. Ecuador granted him asylum in August and said it shared his fears that he could be sent from Sweden to the United States to face charges over WikiLeaks' activities.

U.S. and European government sources say the United States has issued no criminal charges against him, nor launched any attempts to extradite Assange.

Assange is said to be living a cramped life inside the modest diplomatic mission. He eats mostly take-out food and uses a treadmill to burn off energy and a vitamin D lamp to make up for the lack of sunlight.

On Tuesday, the Australian former computer hacker accused "hard-right" U.S. politicians of pressing European credit card firms to block more than $50 million in donations to WikiLeaks, and said that had forced the website to reduce the volume of documents it posted online.

Speaking to reporters in the embassy's gilt-corniced conference room, Assange said his stay there had been "difficult in many ways" and that any resolution of the standoff would be "a matter of diplomacy."

He refused to comment on his health or how long he may have to stay in the embassy, declaring those subjects "off-topic."

In late August, Assange said he expected to wait six months to a year for a deal that would allow him to leave the embassy.

(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jackie Frank)

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