By a Newsnet reporter
The British Government and Ecuador have become embroiled in a major diplomatic spat over Wiki-leaks founder Julian Assange.
The stand-off follows the decision by the South American Republic’s government to grant political asylum to Mr Assange who is facing deportation to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault.
Mr Assange entered the Ecuadorean embassy in June when on bail claiming he was facing political persecution if extradited from the UK.
However the UK Government’s Foreign Secretary William Hague has today warned that the UK will not grant Assange safe passage out of the country, claiming that the case is not one of political persecution but of an alleged criminal offence.
The announcement followed threats yesterday by the UK government that it might storm the Ecuadorean Embassy, using a little-known 1987 law, in order to seize Mr Assange. The Latin American Government responded by upping the ante saying it would interpret such an action as an act of hostility.
"We want to be very clear, we're not a British colony. The colonial times are over," Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said in an angry statement after a meeting with President Rafael Correa.
"The move announced in the official British statement, if it happens, would be interpreted by Ecuador as an unfriendly, hostile and intolerable act, as well as an attack on our sovereignty, which would force us to respond in the strongest diplomatic way,"
The left leaning government is now gathering support in South America against Britain and has called for meetings of regional Foreign Ministers and the hemispheric Organisation of American States.
A statement on its website read:
"We are deeply shocked by British government's threats against the sovereignty of the Ecuadorean Embassy and their suggestion that they may forcibly enter the embassy.
"This is a clear breach of international law and the protocols set out in the Vienna Convention."
Mr Assange, who is from Australia, is wanted for questioning in Sweden after two women alleged he had sexually assaulted them. In May, he lost his fight against extradition, despite not yet having been charged by Swedish police.
The 40-year-old Australian is accused of raping one woman and "sexually molesting and coercing" another in Stockholm in August 2010, but he claims the allegations against him are politically motivated.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has claimed the UK’s pursuit of Assange has nothing to do with his Wikileaks actions.
Assange and his supporters believe that once extradited to Sweden, he will be sent to the USA where he is wanted in connection with the publication of hundreds of confidential US Government files.
However, Sweden’s Fforeign Minister, Carl Bildt, said “our firm legal and constitutional system guarantees the rights of each and every one. We firmly reject any accusations to the contrary.”
In Sweden, the Ecuadorean ambassador was summoned by the Swedish Foreign Ministry to complain about the asylum decision.
Experts have agreed that there is little possibility of Assange fleeing the UK, given that he will be arrested the moment he steps beyond the Embassy perimeter. The Ecuadorean embassy is not a stand-alone compound, but occupies part of a building.
Speculation that he could flee in a diplomatic car, be smuggled out in a container or be granted Ecuadorean Diplomatic Immunity have been dismissed as virtually impossible by legal and diplomatic experts.