South American countries have expressed solidarity with Ecuador in granting asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange despite threats from the governments of Britain and the United States.
A statement issued at the end of a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in Ecuador on Sunday said it supported the country "in the face of the threat" to its London embassy, which has been providing temporary protection to Assange for the last two months.
Julian Assange, who stunned the world by publishing a series of classified U.S. diplomatic cables, sought asylum at Ecuadorean embassy in London on June 19.
Ecuador granted him political asylum on Thursday.
In his first public appearance in two months, Assange on Sunday thanked his supporters from a balcony at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He read a statement calling on the United States to end its "witch-hunt" against Wikileaks and to release Bradley Manning, the American soldier who has been charged with aiding the enemy by passing secret files to WikiLeaks and has been awaiting trial for two years.
The 40-year-old Australian publisher is facing arrest as his appeal against his extradition to Sweden from Britain to stand trial for sexual assault charges turned down.
The British police are stationed outside the Ecuadorian embassy in central London in a bid to arrest him if he walked out of the embassy.
On Sunday, Britain said it could potentially lift the embassy's diplomatic status, citing the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, which will allow police to enter the building to arrest the whistle-blower for breaching his bail terms.
The final declaration from the UNASUR summit called for calm, urging the parties involved to "continue the dialogue and negotiation to find a mutually acceptable solution".
In a symbolic show of unity, after Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino read the summit declaration, his counterparts joined hands and raised them aloft.
Under Sweden's request, Assange was arrested by London's Metropolitan Police on 2010 December 7 on a European arrest warrant on alleged sex crimes.
He is accused by the Swedish authorities of one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape, all alleged to have been committed in Stockholm in August 2010.
Assange denies allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two female former Wikileaks volunteers, saying the sex was consensual.
The lawyer of the founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks expressed concern that his client could later be extradited to the U.S. on separate charges relating to publishing secret U.S. diplomatic cables, for which he could face the death penalty there.
Clare Montgomery, who advocated for the Swedish authorities, said that Sweden guaranteed protection against such a threat, and that the European Court of Human Rights would intervene if Assange was to face the prospect of "an unfair trial" in the U.S.
Publication of about 250,000 top secret American diplomatic cables by the site in its latest expose fueled a wave of anger in the U.S. resulting in numerous calls for bringing Assange to justice for alleged treason.
Americans also called for his arrest or placing him on terrorists' blacklist.
by RTT Staff Writer
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