The diplomatic battle in the case of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken a dramatic turn today: In an angry press conference streamed live on the Internet, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño said Britain threatened to storm their embassy in London if Assange was not handed over to police.
"Ecuador is not a British colony," Patiño said. "The days of colonialism are over."
He added that "such a threat is improper of a democratic and civilized country."
Patiño said Britain made the threat in writing and while diplomatic talks were ongoing. He added that if an assault does happen Ecuador would take appropriate action and look to the Organization of American States for help.
If you remember, back in June Assange sought refuge at Ecuador's embassy in London. Sweden wants him extradited, in order to question him about allegations of rape. Assange has said he fears persecution from the United States if he is extradited.
As we've written before:
"Assange came to prominence after WikiLeaks leaked the biggest cache of classified government information in U.S. history.
"Ecuador is part of an eight-nation group of leftist Latin American countries known as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA for its Spanish initials). Along with Venezuela, ALBA countries have antagonized Western powers like the United States."
Patiño said a decision on whether to grant Assange asylum has been made and will be announced at 6 a.m. ET Thursday.
Update at 5:54 p.m. ET. U.K. 'Determined' To Extradite:
The BBC reports that the U.K. foreign office says it remained "determined" to extradite Assange.
"Throughout this process have we have drawn the Ecuadorians' attention to relevant provisions of our law, whether, for example, the extensive human rights safeguards in our extradition procedures, or to the legal status of diplomatic premises in the UK," a spokesman told the BBC.
The BBC's Richard Gordon has been tweeting about the case. He says the U.K. believes it has the right to enter the embassy.
"The law which Britain is threatening to invoke in the Assange case is the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987," Gordon tweets. He adds: "In short, it allows the UK to revoke the diplomatic immunity of an embassy on UK soil."
Update at 5:47 p.m. Granting Asylum Brings Up Interesting Questions:
If Ecuador does, indeed, grant Assange asylum — which The Guardian has reported will happen — it presents a very interesting diplomatic case.
Reuters has a fascinating piece on the issue. Assange, it notes, can't get to an airport without touching British soil.
And one expert they spoke to said they can't imagine the U.K. wouldn't try to arrest him on the way to the airport.
"I think the UK will see their obligations under the European extradition system as overriding any diplomatic relations with Ecuador, who haven't really been considering their diplomatic relations with the UK, apparently," Rebecca Niblock, an extradition specialist at London law firm Kingsley Napley, told Reuters.