- Jan 11, 2011
- Post of the Week
The UK has issued a "threat" to enter the Ecuadorian embassy in London to arrest Julian Assange, Ecuador's foreign minister has said.
Mr Assange took refuge at the embassy in June to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over assault and rape claims, which he denies.
Ricardo Patino also said a decision on the Wikileaks founder's asylum request would be made public on Thursday.
The Foreign Office said it could revoke the embassy's diplomatic status.
In a statement issued as Mr Patino spoke, it said the UK had a "legal obligation" to extradite Mr Assange.
Meanwhile, a number of police officers are outside the embassy, in Knightsbridge.
At a news conference in Quito on Wednesday night, Mr Patino said a letter was delivered to the Ecuadorian government through a British embassy official.
"Today we received from the United Kingdom an express threat, in writing, that they might storm our Embassy in London if we don't hand over Julian Assange," he said.
"Ecuador rejects in the most emphatic terms the explicit threat of the British official communication."
He said such a threat was "improper of a democratic, civilized and rule abiding country".
"If the measure announced in the British official communication is enacted, it will be interpreted by Ecuador as an unacceptable, unfriendly and hostile act and as an attempt against our sovereignty. It would force us to respond," he said.
"We are not a British colony".
A Foreign Office spokesman said the UK remained "determined" to fulfil its obligation to extradite Mr 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," the spokesman said.
"We are still committed to reaching a mutually acceptable solution."
The law which Britain is threatening to invoke in the Assange case is the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987.
It allows the UK to revoke the diplomatic status of an embassy on UK soil, which would potentially allow police to enter the building to arrest Mr Assange.
The BBC's deputy political editor James Landale says the British government has been in long negotiations with Ecuador over the issue and has reminded it of the act.
But he added that while the UK has been frustrated at the lack of a decision it is not about to raid the embassy.
Even if Mr Assange is granted asylum, he will have to cross British territory and could be arrested, our correspondent said.
On Monday, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said a decision would be made this week after he held a meeting with his advisers.
Mr Patino told reporters the decision had been made and an announcement would issued on Thursday morning, at 07:00 Ecuadorian time (13:00 BST).
Mr Assange's Wikileaks website published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several governments, particularly the US, in 2010.
In 2010, two female ex-Wikileaks volunteers alleged that Mr Assange, an Australian citizen, had attacked them while he was in Stockholm to give a lecture.
Mr Assange claims the sex was consensual and the allegations are politically motivated.
The 41-year-old says he fears that if he is extradited to Sweden, he may be sent later to the US and could face espionage charges.
In June, judges at the UK's Supreme Court dismissed his final appeal against extradition to Sweden.
An offer to the Swedish authorities by Ecuador for investigators to interview Mr Assange inside the embassy, was rejected.
This could turn messy!