WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has acknowledged that he does not know whether Ecuador will approve his unusual plea for political asylum, as he spent a third night inside the country's London embassy.
Assange told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio in an interview on Thursday that he had mounted his bizarre request for political asylum in Ecuador because his native Australia had made an "effective declaration of abandonment" by refusing to intervene in his planned extradition from Britain to Sweden.
"We had heard that the Ecuadoreans were sympathetic in relation to my struggles and the struggles of the organisation with the United States," Assange told ABC, explaining his actions in his first public comment since launching his asylum bid.
However, Assange acknowledged there was no guarantee that his plea would be successful, and indicated he did not know when a decision on his case would be made.
Ecuador President Rafael Correa told reporters in Quito on Thursday night that careful deliberations and consultations with other nations were involved.
"We are going to have to discuss with and seek the opinions of other countries. We don't wish to offend anyone, least of all a country we hold in such deep regard as the United Kingdom," Correa said after arriving from a climate summit in Brazil. "Once a decision is made we can talk about safe passage and such things," he said.
British authorities say they are poised to pounce the moment Assange steps out of Ecuador's London embassy.
He would be arrested, they say, for breaching the terms of his bail, which include an overnight curfew at a registered address.
Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange about allegations of sexual assault made by two women, which he denies.
Assange fears that if sent to Sweden he would be extradited onwards to the US where he believes he could face criminal charges punishable by death.
His website, WikiLeaks, angered the US administration in 2010 by publishing secret US diplomatic cables.
"I genuinely believe, and I know him well, that he fears for his life," said Vaughan Smith, founder of a now defunct TV news agency, who hosted Assange at his country mansion for 13 months after Assange was freed on bail in December 2010.
"He fears that if he goes to Sweden he'll be sent to America and you only have to look at the treatment of Bradley Manning by the Americans to fell that he's right to be fearful," Smith told the BBC.
Manning, the US intelligence analyst accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of government files to Wikileaks, faces a court-martial in September at which he could be jailed for life.
Ecuador had briefly offered Assange residency at the height of the WikiLeaks furore in November 2010 before backing off.
It was not clear whether Assange's decision to appeal to Ecuador was connected to a recent interview he conducted with Rafael Correa, the South American country's leftist president, on Russia Today, a Kremlin-sponsored English-language TV channel.
"Cheer up. Welcome to the club of the persecuted," Correa told Assange at the end of the interview, which was conducted by video-link between Britain and Ecuador and posted on YouTube by Russia Today TV channel on May 22.
The two men appeared to hit it off during the 25-minute interview, exchanging flattering comments and laughing at each other's jokes.
Assange expressed sympathy with Correa's battle against his country's media - viewed by Human Rights Watch as a serious threat to free speech - and praised him for getting more done for his country than President Barack Obama was achieving for the US.
In London, a crowd of television crews and reporters were stationed in front of the Ecuadorian embassy but there was no sighting of Assange, whose distinctive white-blond hair has helped make him instantly recognisable around the world.
Neither US nor Swedish authorities have charged Assange with anything.
The former computer hacker, whose unpredictable behaviour and love of the limelight has cost him the support of many former friends and colleagues, lost a long-running legal battle last week to avoid extradition from Britain to Sweden.
Having exhausted all possible avenues offered by the British courts, Assange's only option to keep fighting would have been an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
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|William A. Cook|