Tuesday, 28 February 2017 11:33

Ecuador runoff vote will decide Assange's fate

By

WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange will have to wait until a runoff vote in Ecuador on 2 April to know whether he will be able to continue taking refuge in the country's embassy in London.

In the first round of the election, Lenín Moreno, the candidate from the ruling Alianza Pais party, won 39% of the vote, 1% less than what he needed to avoid a second round. Right-wing challenger Guillermo Lasso won 28%.

However, according to NBC News, a survey of 2834 Ecuadorians taken on 23 and 24 February by the Cedatos polling agency found Lasso was leading Moreno by 52% to 48%. Lasso has said that he would ask Assange to leave the embassy if he became president.

Ecuador President Rafael Correa granted Assange asylum in 2012 and he has been in the embassy ever since.

The only time things have looked prickly for Assange was when WikiLeaks releases emails from the US Democratic National Committee ahead of last year's US presidential elections.

At that time, Assange's Internet access was cut by the embassy which took a dim view of what it said was interference in another country's elections.

The Assange saga has been going on since August 2010 when he visited Sweden to address a conference. During that visit, he had sexual relations with two women who later filed rape and molestation complaints against him, claims that he has denied.

After being questioned by Swedish authorities, Assange was cleared of all accusations. He could have left the country but stayed a while, in case authorities wanted to speak to him again.

Interpol issued a Red Notice for his arrest on 20 November 2010 by which time he was back in London, a city he chose because he did not trust the government in his home country, Australia.

Given its close ties with the US, Assange feared that Canberra would hand him over to Washington.

On 27 November, Assange surrendered to British authorities and appeared before a Westminster judge. He was granted bail in December and supporters provided £240,000 in cash and sureties towards this end.

Lawyers from Sweden and Assange's side, among them the world-renowned Australian Geoffrey Robertson, wrangled over the issue until June 2012, when Swedish prosecutors asked the UK to extradite him.

Assange's lawyers fought the demand on the grounds that if he was sent to Sweden, then the US would seek to have him extradited for questioning.

On 19 June 2012, he jumped bail and entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London, seeking asylum. British police have since then blocked him from leaving.

After the recent pardon extended to whistleblower Chelsea Manning by outgoing US President Barack Obama, Assange indicated that he would honour an earlier statement that he would accept being extradited to the US if Manning was freed. Manning provided many documents and one shocking video about Iraq war atrocities to WikiLeaks.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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