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Why Assange's bid for Ecuador asylum may dismay supporters

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London Tuesday. Ecuador says it expects today to decided if it will grant his asylum request.

By Mian RidgeCorrespondent / June 21, 2012

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.

Tim Hales/AP

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London

As many questions as answers surrounded Julian Assange’s continued sojourn at the Ecuadorian embassy in London Thursday morning, as the Australian founder of WikiLeaks awaited Ecuador’s response to his plea for asylum.

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Mr. Assange’s decision Tuesday to seek refuge at the small embassy across the road from Harrods department store in Knightsbridge, central London, has caused widespread bewilderment, especially among his supporters, several of whom stumped up cash for his £240,000 ($375,000) bail – money they may now lose.

Assange, whose WikiLeaks website caused a furor when it published secret US diplomatic cables in conjunction with some of the world’s most respected newspapers in 2010, is trying to avoid extradition to Sweden, where authorities want to question him over alleged sex crimes. He claims that Sweden could extradite him to the United States, where, he says, he could face criminal charges punishable by death.

The logic behind this is perplexing, say legal experts, because Britain has its own extradition agreements with the US which it has not used against Assange. Indeed, civil liberties groups are often critical of Britain's use of the agreements.

Could still be arrested

Even if Ecuador does grant Assange asylum, he is still likely to be arrested by British police for breaching his bail conditions. Diplomatic convention prevents British police from entering the embassy without authorization from Ecuador. But Assange cannot leave the embassy without treading on British soil on the way out, thus exposing himself to arrest.

“Various deranged theories have emerged, like, Ecuador could protect Assange by making him a diplomat,” said Matthew Happold, professor of public international law at the University of Luxembourg. “But no, it couldn’t, because Britain would not recognize that.”

“I have no idea why he’s done this,” he added. “I don’t think any lawyer who had researched this would have advised him to.”

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