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Assange arrested after Ecuador withdraws asylum protection
[LONDON] WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was expelled from his hideout in Ecuador's embassy in London Thursday and promptly arrested by London police as his lawyer said he faces extradition to the US.
London police said Assange was arrested moments after Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said on Twitter that the country had withdrawn his diplomatic asylum. Video showed a handcuffed Assange being dragged out of the embassy and placed in a police van.
Assange's lawyer, Jen Robinson, said he was arrested not just for skipping bail in the UK but also in relation to an American extradition request.
The 47-year-old has been in the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012 when he sought to escape questioning in a Swedish sexual-assault case. While those charges were dropped in 2017, Assange has remained in the small London apartment as he has continued to dodge UK police and American prosecutors.
Assange's exit from the embassy ends a nearly seven-year standoff between the controversial transparency advocate and British authorities. While he will initially face punishment for jumping bail, Assange faces a looming extradition request from the US.
"Julian Assange is no hero and no one is above the law," UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter. "He has hidden from the truth for years."
WikiLeaks said on its Twitter feed that Ecuador had "illegally" terminated Assange's asylum.
London police said Assange was taken to a nearby station and will appear at Westminster Magistrates Court. The police said in a statement that they were invited into the embassy.
Assange's relationship with his Ecuadorian protectors has deteriorated over the years. He has had spats over Internet access and even faced criminal charges for hacking into the embassy's computer system. On Wednesday, WikiLeaks officials held a press conference where they accused Ecuador of spying on Assange.
"The discourteous and aggressive behaviour of Mr Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of his allied organisation, against Ecuador, and especially the transgression of international treaties" meant the situation is "unsustainable and no longer viable," Mr Moreno said in a video message posted Thursday on Twitter.
Mr Moreno said he'd wrung a guarantee from the UK that Assange wouldn't be extradited to a "country where he would face torture or the death penalty," according to a transcript of the video message.
WikiLeaks and Assange became famous in 2010 when the organization published government secrets supplied by US Army soldier Chelsea Manning. More recently, the website put itself at the center of the 2016 American presidential race by publishing hacked emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign.
While the American case is still sealed, US prosecutors in court filings last year may have inadvertently revealed that Assange had been charged. In a matter unrelated to Assange, federal prosecutors in Virginia, said that "no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged."
If the U.S. seeks to extradite him, a London court will review the matter in a process that could last months and ultimately years. It's still possible that Swedish prosecutors could resume their investigation, with a lawyer for the alleged victim of the assault saying last week that she will continue to fight for Assange to be extradited to Sweden. The Swedish Prosecution Authority was not immediately able to comment.