* Quito says it would see a raid as a "hostile and
* UK says obliged by law to extradite Assange to Sweden
* Ecuador to announce asylum decision on Thursday
By Eduardo Garcia and Alessandra Prentice
QUITO/LONDON, Aug 15 The diplomatic standoff
over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange escalated on Wednesday
after Britain threatened to raid Ecuador's embassy in London if
Quito did not hand over Assange, who has been taking refuge
there for two months.
The Ecuadorean government said such an action would be
considered a "hostile and intolerable act" as well as a
violation of its sovereignty.
"Under British law we can give them a week's notice before
entering the premises and the embassy will no longer have
diplomatic protection," a Foreign Office spokesman said.
"But that decision has not yet been taken. We are not going
to do this overnight. We want to stress that we want a
diplomatically agreeable solution."
Quito bristled at the threat and said it would announce its
decision on Assange's asylum request on Thursday at 7 a.m. (1200
"We want to be very clear, we're not a British colony. The
colonial times are over," Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo
Patino said in an angry statement after a meeting with President
"The move announced in the official British statement, if
it happens, would be interpreted by Ecuador as an unfriendly,
hostile and intolerable act, as well as an attack on our
sovereignty, which would force us to respond in the strongest
diplomatic way," Patino told reporters.
Ecuador, whose government is part of a left-leaning bloc of
nations in South America, called for meetings of regional
foreign ministers and the hemispheric Organization of American
States to rally support in its complaint against Britain.
"We are deeply shocked by British government's threats
against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorean Embassy and their
suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy," the
mission said on its website.
"This is a clear breach of international law and the
protocols set out in the Vienna Convention."
The embassy, near London's famed Harrods department store,
was under tight surveillance, with three police officers manning
the entrance and several others patrolling around the red-brick
A group of Assange supporters who responded to a rallying
call by WikiLeaks on Twitter gathered outside to demand
Assange's freedom and streamed the scene live on the Internet.
"We have been here day in day out as a vigil to make sure
there is at least a witness to all of this," said Anthony, one
of the supporters.
WikiLeaks earlier tweeted saying, "If police storms, they
will do so in early hours of the morning. Please stay, & those
who can, go to the embassy and #ProtectAssange".
WANTED IN SWEDEN
The Australian former hacker has been in the embassy for
eight weeks since losing a legal battle to avoid extradition to
Sweden, where he has been accused of rape and sexual assault by
two WikiLeaks supporters.
"The UK has a legal obligation to extradite Mr Assange to
Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual offences
and we remain determined to fulfill this obligation," a Foreign
Office spokesman said earlier.
Swedish prosecutors have not yet charged Assange, but they
have moved forward with their investigations and they believe
they have a case to take to trial.
Assange fears Sweden could send him on to the United States,
where he believes authorities want to punish him for publishing
thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks in 2010
in a major embarrassment for Washington.
Even if he were granted asylum, Assange has little chance
of leaving the Ecuadorean embassy in London without being
There has been speculation he could travel to an airport in
a diplomatic car, be smuggled out in a diplomatic bag, or even
be appointed an Ecuadorean diplomat to give him immunity.
But lawyers and diplomats see those scenarios as practically
The Ecuadorean government has said it wants to avoid
Assange's extradition to Sweden, but approval of asylum would
offer no legal protection in Britain where police will arrest
him once they get a chance.
"The question of asylum is arguably a red herring," said
former British government lawyer Carl Gardner.
Ecuador's leader Correa is a self-declared enemy of
"corrupt" media and U.S. "imperialism", and apparently hit it
off with Assange during a TV interview the Australian did with
him in May.
Correa joked then with Assange that he had joined "the club
of the persecuted".
Some, though, find Assange's connection with Ecuador odd,
given that Correa is labeled a persecutor of the media by
journalism freedom groups.