Ecuador set the stage for a diplomatic standoff Thursday when it granted WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange political asylum over the protests of U.K. authorities.
Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London for more than six weeks as he fights extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted on allegations of sexual misconduct.
Announcing the decision early Thursday, Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino echoed Assange's fears that Sweden may deport him to the United States where he said Assange was unlikely to get a fair trial.
The U.K. Foreign Office said it could not honor Ecuador's request.
"Under our law, with Mr. Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden," the Foreign Office said in a statement. "We shall carry out that obligation. The Ecuadorian Government's decision [Thursday] does not change that."
Scotland Yard has said Assange will be detained once he's off embassy grounds, complicating his transit from the embassy to the airport.
WikiLeaks was launched in 2006 as a whistle-blowing website, where documents could be published anonymously. But the site caught global attention in 2010 when it began releasing confidential U.S. State Department cables. The Miami Herald's parent company, McClatchy, is one of WikiLeaks publishing partners.
Assange's supporters have said they fear he will be tried in the United States on espionage charges. However, no indictment or extradition request is known to exist.
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