| International News | Saturday August 18 2012 11:52
Julian Assange remained holed up in Ecuador's London embassy on Friday with police guarding its exits after the British government warned that a diplomatic standoff over the WikiLeaks founder could go on for years.
Ecuador on Thursday granted asylum to Assange - whose website enraged the US by publishing a vast cache of confidential government files - but Britain has vowed not to grant him safe passage out of the country.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said his government was obliged under its own laws to extradite the Australian national to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sex crimes.
"No one, least of all the government of Ecuador, should be in any doubt that we are determined to carry out our legal obligation to see Mr Assange extradited to Sweden," Hague told a press conference.
Meanwhile, both Ecuador and Sweden suggested on Friday they were prepared to be patient and wait.
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said Assange would remain in Quito's embassy as long as Britain refused to give him safe passage.
"The problem is that they aren't going to give him the safe conduct," Correa said in a radio interview, adding that "Mr Assange can stay indefinitely in our embassy".
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told his country's TT news agency: "We have no reason to do too much, we're going to wait and see what happens."
About 20 British police were stationed outside the embassy Friday, ready to arrest the 41-year-old Assange if he leaves the premises.
WikiLeaks condemned the police presence as "intimidation tactics".
A handful of supporters of the former computer hacker camped overnight outside the embassy in London's plush Knightsbridge district in a bid to "guard" Assange against any potential attempt to arrest him.
"We'll stay here as long as we have to," 26-year-old protester Baba Gena told AFP.
Two activists brought a megaphone along and yelled at police: "Why aren't you doing your job properly?" and "Put your hands in the air if you believe in freedom of speech!"
Assange has not left the embassy since June 19, when he walked in and asked for asylum.
WikiLeaks said on Twitter that Assange would give a statement in front of the embassy on Sunday, although it did not specify whether this would involve leaving the premises and, if so, how he would do so without being arrested.
Under normal diplomatic procedures, embassies are considered the territory of the countries they represent and cannot be entered without permission.
Britain has angered Ecuador by suggesting it could invoke a domestic law allowing it to breach the usual rules and go in to arrest Assange.
Baltasar Garzon, a renowned Spanish lawyer and human rights advocate who is helping Assange's defence, has said the WikiLeaks founder will appeal to the International Court of Justice if Britain does not backtrack and guarantee him safe passage.
WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told AFP that any bid to enter the embassy would "risk upsetting diplomatic relations all over the world".
A Foreign Office spokesman said Friday that Britain was "committed to working with the Ecuadorians to solve this matter amicably".
Ecuador has turned to the Organisation of American States (OAS) for help.
Under a 1954 agreement, the OAS agreed to allow asylum in diplomatic missions for "persons being sought for political reasons", although not individuals indicted for "common offences".
But Washington did not "recognise the concept of diplomatic asylum as a matter of international law", the US State Department said in a statement.
"We believe this is a bilateral issue between Ecuador and the United Kingdom and that the OAS has no role to play in this matter," it said.
In 2010, WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of US military documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as diplomatic cables that deeply embarrassed Washington.
Supporters fear Assange could face the death penalty if he were to be sent to the US and tried on espionage charges.
Photo: Getty Images