Ecuador wants Julian Assange out of London embassy

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An increasingly unwelcome guest

The Ecuadorian government sounds like it has finally had enough of Julian Assange.

For five years now, the WikiLeaks founder has been holed up in the country’s U.K. embassy in London.

At first, he was seeking to evade arrest for rape charges in Sweden. More recently, Assange has cited fears that he might be extradited to the United States because of his website’s spilling of government secrets.

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Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy Of Ecuador in London in May 2017. There is no garden or outdoor patio at the embassy, so the balcony is his only way to go outside the building without being arrested. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Speaking to reporters in Quito yesterday, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said her country is looking for a third nation, or person, to mediate a settlement with the British government and bring an end to an “untenable” situation.

The embassy is located in tony Knightsbridge — right behind Harrods department store — but is tiny and was not built for long-term guests. There is no garden or outdoor patio, and Assange has been living and working in one of its four ground floor rooms.

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Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinoza addressed the foreign media in Quito on Tuesday seeking help to mediate an end to the Assange situation. (Daniel Tapia/Reuters)

And relations with his hosts have become strained. They took away his internet privileges for a while in 2016, after WikiLeaks released internal Democratic Party emails that had been stolen by Russian hackers.

And just last month, Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno told a Spanish newspaper that Assange had been told to stop tweeting in support of Catalonian independence.

The 46-year-old Australian was something of a pro-transparency folk hero when he first sought refuge in 2012. Over the years he welcomed a parade of celebrities to the embassy, including Pamela Anderson and Lady Gaga (she was across the road promoting her perfume Fame and popped over to film a brief and disjointed interview.)

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Singer Lady Gaga, left, posted this photo to her fan website after a five-hour meeting with Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in October 2012.

But as the years have gone by, many of his early supporters have come to suspect that Assange has chosen sides. In November, The Atlantic published a batch of secret messages exchanged between WikiLeaks and Donald Trump Jr.

And Assange’s website continues to make document dumps that seem calculated to win the U.S. president’s favour, like this week’s sharing of a free and unauthorized PDF of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, potentially undermining sales of the critical book.

It’s unclear whether Assange still has reason to be concerned for his liberty. The Swedes dropped the rape charges last spring. And President Obama pardoned one of his main sources, Chelsea Manning, shortly before leaving office. (Assange had set Manning’s freedom as a prerequisite for him leaving his bolthole, but he didn’t budge following her release from military prison in May.)

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A police officer walks past the Ecuadorian Embassy in London following a shift change in February 2015. Police ended their expensive 24-hour surveillance of the embassy in October that year. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)

For their part, the Brits seem to have given up a while ago, ending their round-the-clock surveillance of the embassy in October 2015 after it was revealed that the watch had cost almost $19 million in police wages.

Assange still acts like a hunted man, keeping up a steady stream of social media messages about a mysterious burglary at the offices of his Madrid lawyer, and the brief deactivation of his Twitter account over Christmas.

Proof, perhaps, of a dark conspiracy. Or simply a man who has spent too much time alone in his room.

Michael Wolff interview

Rosemary Barton has a feature interview with Michael Wolff, author of the controversial tell-all Trump book Fire and Fury, on The National tonight.

Here’s a brief preview featuring Wolff discussing former White House advisor Steve Bannon‘s candid thoughts about the U.S. president.