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Ecuador says it will decide soon on Assange asylum

Published: Thursday, June 21 2012 6:41 a.m. MDT

Demonstrators protest outside the Ecuadorian embassy, London, Wednesday June 20, 2012. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange entered the embassy Tuesday in an attempt to gain political asylum. Ecuador said Assange would Demonstrators protest outside the Ecuadorian embassy, London, Wednesday June 20, 2012. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange entered the embassy Tuesday in an attempt to gain political asylum. Ecuador said Assange would "remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorean government" while authorities in the capital, Quito, considered his case. Assange was arrested in London in December 2010 at Sweden's request. Since then he has been fighting extradition to the Scandinavian country, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual assaults on two women in 2010. (Tim Hales, Associated Press)

LONDON — Ecuador says it expects to decide Thursday on an asylum request by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is spending a third day ensconced in its London embassy.

The country's deputy foreign minister, Marco Albuja, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that President Rafael Correa would make a decision within the day.

"The national government is considering its position and the president will give us his instructions tomorrow," Albuja said late Wednesday.

Staff at Ecuador's London embassy confirmed a decision was expected from Ecuador's capital, Quito, on Thursday.

Assange has spent a second night in the embassy, where he sought asylum on Tuesday. He has been fighting since 2010 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual assaults on two women. He denies the claims, and says the case against him is politically motivated.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa gestures during meeting about the Yasuni-ITT Initiative at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, holed up at Ecuador's embassy in London, is seeking political asylum in the South American nation.  (Victor R. Caivano, Associated Press) Ecuador's President Rafael Correa gestures during meeting about the Yasuni-ITT Initiative at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, holed up at Ecuador's embassy in London, is seeking political asylum in the South American nation. (Victor R. Caivano, Associated Press)

His supporters say he fears charges in the United States for leaking hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents.

Per Samuelson, one of the WikiLeaks founder's two Swedish lawyers, said Assange "feels that he's persecuted politically by the U.S." for revealing American war crimes.

"He is convinced that the U.S. is preparing charges," he said. "He feels that his asylum application is not about the crime accusations he faces in Sweden, but is about getting protected from the U.S."

Assange's dramatic asylum bid took many of his supporters — and even his lawyers — by surprise. Samuelson said he had not been informed about Assange's plans until the Australian had already entered the embassy.

The lawyer said Assange was camping out "in an office that has been prepared with overnight sleeping facilities."

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa speaks during a meeting about the Yasuni-ITT Initiative at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, holed up at Ecuador's embassy in London, is seeking political asylum in the South American nation.  (Victor R. Caivano, Associated Press) Ecuador's President Rafael Correa speaks during a meeting about the Yasuni-ITT Initiative at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, holed up at Ecuador's embassy in London, is seeking political asylum in the South American nation. (Victor R. Caivano, Associated Press)

"I don't get the feeling that they (embassy staff) are in a hurry to get rid of him. He's welcome there," said Samuelson, who met with Assange Wednesday.

British officials say Assange is beyond their reach in the embassy, but say he will be arrested if he leaves for breaching his bail conditions.

The left-leaning Correa, who has sought to reduce U.S. influence in Latin America, has praised WikiLeaks for exposing U.S. secrets, and has offered Assange words of support.

Correa said Wednesday that Assange had made it clear in his letter requesting asylum that "he wants to continue his mission of free expression without limits, to reveal the truth, in a place of peace dedicated to truth and justice."

Some have questioned Ecuador's commitment to freedom of speech. Correa's government has been assailed by human rights and press freedom activists for using Ecuador's criminal libel law in sympathetic courts against journalists, including some from the country's biggest newspaper, El Universo.

Police look on as demonstrators protest outside the Ecuadorian embassy, London, Wednesday June 20, 2012. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange entered the embassy Tuesday in an attempt to gain political asylum. Ecuador said Assange would Police look on as demonstrators protest outside the Ecuadorian embassy, London, Wednesday June 20, 2012. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange entered the embassy Tuesday in an attempt to gain political asylum. Ecuador said Assange would "remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorean government" while authorities in the capital, Quito, considered his case. Assange was arrested in London in December 2010 at Sweden's request. Since then he has been fighting extradition to the Scandinavian country, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual assaults on two women in 2010. (Tim Hales, Associated Press)

Associated Press Writer Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm contributed to this report.

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