Hundreds of Ecuadoreans held a rally in the country's capital Quito on Monday in support of their government's decision granting political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that prompted a standoff with the United Kingdom, media reports said.
Rally participants hailed President Rafael Correa for his courageous decision to grant political asylum to Assange who feared that he could be transferred to the United States after his extradition to Sweden to face charges of sexual misconduct.
Assange, an Australian national, has earned the wrath of the United States following WikiLeaks' 2010 release of tens of thousands of classified U.S. military documents and diplomatic cables.
Many at Monday's rally wore multi-color bandannas with images of Assange and the message: "Without real freedom of expression, there will not be sovereignty."
Correa, already very popular in the South American country, appears to be drawing greater support for his stance on Assange who took refuge in Ecuadore's London Embassy after Britain's Supreme Court ordered his extradition to Sweden on a European arrest warrant. Correa has portrayed the standoff with London as a principled struggle between a small nation against a "colonial power." Small protests were also held outside the British Embassy in Quito where graffiti had appeared declaring support for the 49-year-old Correa.
Ecuador has said it may take the case to the International Court of Justice but would first try to convince Britain to allow Assange to leave or give him guarantees that he would not be extradited to the U.S. "We're states with responsible governments that can negotiate directly about this problem. We have always been open to negotiations with the British and Swedish governments," Correa told the state-run television on Monday night.
Britain has vowed that it will not allow Assange to leave the country and has stationed police both outside and inside the posh Knightsbridge neighborhood building that houses the Ecuadorean Embassy.
In his first public appearance in two months, Assange on Sunday thanked his supporters from a balcony at the Ecuadorian Embassy in the British capital. He read out a statement calling on the United States to end its "witch-hunt" against WikiLeaks and to release Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who has been charged with aiding the enemy by passing secret files to WikiLeaks. Manning has been under detention for the last two years awaiting trial.
Meanwhile, the United States has accused Assange of making "wild assertions" about it in an attempt to divert public attention from justice he faces in Sweden. "He is making all kinds of wild assertions about us, when, in fact, his issue with the Government of the United Kingdom has to do with whether he's going to go stand - face justice in Sweden for something that has nothing to do with WikiLeaks," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in Washington on Monday.
Ecuador last Thursday granted Assange political asylum which he was seeking since he took refuge at the Latin American country's Embassy in London on June 19.
by RTT Staff Writer
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