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Julian Assange Set To Leave Ecuadorean Embassy

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange says he will leave London’s Ecuadorean embassy “soon” after two years’ refuge.

He did not clarify when he would depart but said it was “probably not” for the reasons reported by the UK press.

Stories had suggested he was suffering ill-health and required treatment.

Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patino said Mr Assange, who is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual assault offences in Sweden, would continue to be offered “protection”.

Mr Assange, 43, faces questioning by prosecutors over claims made by two women. He denies the allegations and sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in June 2012 shortly after a court ordered his extradition.

He says he fears he could eventually be handed over to the US because Wikileaks published classified US military documents on the Afghan and Iraq wars.

He has been living inside the embassy building since then, having been granted diplomatic asylum by Ecuador in August 2012.

Reports in UK newspapers at the weekend said Mr Assange had developed a heart defect and a chronic lung condition during his confinement.

Bound To Fail

Sitting next to Mr Patino at a news conference, Mr Assange said his health had suffered during his time inside the embassy.

He told journalists: “I can confirm I will be leaving the embassy soon.”

The Australian said the reasons for leaving were not those “reported by the Murdoch press” – but did not elaborate further.

If he does leave the Ecuadorian embassy, Mr Assange faces immediate arrest and extradition to Sweden.

Extradition could take place within 10 days of any arrest – unless there are compelling reasons for this to be extended.

BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said that if Mr Assange needs medical treatment he could be arrested and then taken to hospital under guard.

But our correspondent said that any argument that Mr Assange could not be extradited because of his health was “almost certainly bound to fail”.

“It is almost inconceivable that an extradition would be halted on health grounds if that extradition is to a country that is part of the European Arrest Warrant scheme,” he said.

“All of those countries have good hospitals and health care facilities. The health issue doesn’t upon up a new round of domestic legal challenges.”

Better Climate

Mr Patino said the Ecuador government would attempt to meet UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to discuss the case.

He said changes to the UK’s extradition laws had created a better climate for reaching a deal over Mr Assange.

“It is time to free Julian Assange. It is time for his human rights to be finally respected,” he told the news conference.

The Swedish warrant for Mr Assange’s arrest was first issued at the end of 2010. Last month, a Stockholm court ruled it should stay in place.