Geoff Caddick / AFP - Getty Images
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is shown in December speaking to the media outside the High Court in London.
Updated at 4:17 p.m. ET: WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuador Embassy in London and has asked for political asylum, Ecuador's foreign minister said on Tuesday.
"Ecuador is studying and analyzing the request," Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters in the capital Quito.
The Ecuador Embassy issued the following statement:
This afternoon Mr Julian Assange arrived at the Ecuadorian Embassy seeking political asylum from the Ecuadorian government.
As a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights, with an obligation to review all applications for asylum, we have immediately passed his application on to the relevant department in Quito.
While the department assesses Mr Assange's application, Mr Assange will remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorian Government.
The decision to consider Mr Assange's application for protective asylum should in no way be interpreted as the Government of Ecuador interfering in the judicial processes of either the United Kingdom or Sweden.
Assange faces extradition to Sweden for questioning over alleged sex crimes after Britain's top court said last week that it had rejected a legal request to reconsider his case.
Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden after two women accused him of sexual misconduct during a visit to the country in mid-2010. His legal struggle to stay in Britain has dragged on for the better part of two years, clouding his website's work exposing the world's secrets.
In a brief, five-point judgment, the British court rejected arguments that Assange's legal team hadn't been given the chance to properly cross-examine the evidence that justices relied on to deny the Australian native's appeal against extradition.
Claes Borgstrom, the lawyer for Assange's accusers, told The Associated Press that Thursday's ruling is "an obvious and expected decision that has been delayed for too long."
The development effectively exhausted Assange's legal options in Britain, and he could be sent to Sweden by the end of the month. Assange could still apply to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but legal experts say the 40-year-old stands little chance there.
The former computer hacker gained international prominence in 2010 when WikiLeaks began releasing secret video footage and thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, many of them about Iraq and Afghanistan, in the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history.
That made him a hero to anti-censorship campaigners, but Washington was furious about the release of classified documents.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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