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Ecuador rejects WikiLeaks claim it plans to expel Julian Assange

Assange hasn't left the country's embassy in London since he sought refuge there in 2012 to avoid potential extradition to the United States.
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LONDON — Ecuador has denied WikiLeaks' claims that it is set to expel Julian Assange from its embassy in London, rejecting what it called "an attempt to stain the dignity of the country."

Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, hasn't left the embassy since 2012. He sought refuge there to avoid arrest and potential extradition to the United States for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables on the website.

The organization has also repeatedly claimed that the U.S. Justice Department is building a criminal case against Assange centered on the leaking of Democratic emails hacked by the Russians in the 2016 election.

On Friday, WikiLeaks tweeted that Assange would be expelled from the embassy "within 'hours to days'" and claimed that Ecuador "already has an agreement with the UK for his arrest."

Ecuador's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement late Friday that Assange and WikiLeaks have shown "ingratitude and disrespect" toward the country that has given him protection on its diplomatic soil by fueling rumors that he would be handed over to British authorities.

Ecuador "has made significant expenditures to pay for his stay" and has "endured its rudeness," the ministry said.

The latest reports surrounding Assange's potential release brought renewed attention to the embassy, a red-brick building in a quiet, upscale area in the southwest of the British capital.

On Friday a few protesters gathered outside along with members of the media.

Assange, who is originally from Australia, founded WikiLeaks in 2006. The website gained global attention in 2010 with the publication of leaks provided by Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst in Iraq and self-described whistleblower. Manning in March refused to testify before a federal grand jury looking into the release of documents to WikiLeaks.

Assange could also face legal troubles in Britain for violating bail conditions related to an international arrest warrant issued by the Swedish government over allegations of sexual assault and rape. Assange has denied the allegations and surrendered to British police. But once released on bail, he fled.

Sweden has since dropped its investigation and Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Friday that Assange is "a free man, he can leave that embassy whenever he wants to."

Local police said in a statement there is an active warrant for Assange's arrest and that the police are "obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the Embassy."

Assange became an Ecuadorian citizen last year despite his increasingly strained relations with the country.

The government cut off his access to the internet in 2016 after WikiLeaks published a trove of Democratic emails during the U.S. presidential campaign, saying it was preventing him from interfering in the affairs of other countries.

Last month, Ecuador's National Assembly issued a resolution to investigate if Assange played a role in the publishing of private information about President Lenín Moreno on social networks.

On Tuesday, Moreno blamed WikiLeaks for recent allegations of offshore corruption that appeared in local media outlets and the publication of family photos to social media.

WikiLeaks in a statement called Moreno's charges "completely bogus," saying it reported on the accusations of corruption against the president only after Ecuador's legislature investigated the issue.

Moreno provided no evidence, but the speech reflected ongoing tension between Assange and his hosts at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in its statement late Friday that Ecuador had filed a complaint with the United Nations over what they called "illicit publications."

"Mr. Assange has rights but also obligations to comply with," it warned. "No person under the jurisdiction of Ecuador is above the Law."