Defying British pressure, Ecuador on Thursday granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been hiding in Ecuador's London embassy for two months to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning on sexual assault charges. Britain says it won't allow Assange safe passage out of the country, and made a thinly veiled threat to revoke the Ecuadorean embassy's diplomatic status so the building would no longer be considered foreign territory, allowing British police to storm in and arrest Assange. Ecuador says it would consider such a move a "hostile and intolerable" violation of its sovereignty. Would the U.K. really take such drastic measures to nab Assange?
The U.K. will let Assange sweat where he is: The last thing the British government wants to do is send police storming into Ecuador's embassy, says Peter Beaumont at Britain's Guardian. That would set a dangerous "international precedent" that some other country could cite to justify invading one of the U.K.'s own embassies abroad. Besides, there's no need: The second Assange steps outside he'll be arrested. "And so Assange stays put for now."
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Eventually, Britain might have to charge in: Revoking the diplomatic status of Ecuador's embassy would indeed set "an appalling precedent," says Philip Dorling at The Sydney Morning Herald, "but that step may come." Assange and Ecuador aren't just defying London. They're insulting Sweden, and trying to make sure Assange will never face charges in the U.S. for releasing secret diplomatic cables. "The UK, Sweden and the US may all eventually decide enough is enough."
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The U.K. has no option but to wait: The British government doesn't really have much choice, Paul Whiteway, a former British diplomat, tells CNN. The 1987 law allowing the foreign secretary to "end the inviolability" of a foreign embassy is supposed to be "invoked in cases connected to public safety, national security, or town and country planning." Assange doesn't fit the bill. Still, neither side can back down now, so we're looking at a stand-off that could last years.
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