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Julian Assange Seeks Asylum: Why Ecuador?

BERTIL ERICSON/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sought asylum in a London embassy Tuesday, hoping to dodge extradition to Sweden on sex crime allegations, some observers may have wondered why he chose to throw himself on the mercy of Ecuador.

Assange apparently made his bid based on his past history with the left-leaning leadership of the South American country.  While the Ecuadorian government has said it is weighing his request for asylum, and U.K. police wait outside the gates to arrest him should asylum be denied, two top Ecuadorian officials are already on record as fans of Assange.

In November 2010, then-Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas extended an explicit offer of residency to Assange.

"We are open to giving him residency in Ecuador, without any problem and without any conditions," Lucas said.  "We are going to try and invite him to Ecuador to freely present, not only via the Internet, but also through different public forums, the information and documentation that he has."

President Rafael Correa walked those remarks back the following day, saying he had not authorized the offer.  But Correa is open about his admiration for Assange.

Earlier this month, Correa appeared as a guest on Assange's television talk show, The World Tomorrow, which airs on the international cable channel Russia Today (RT), and praised WikiLeaks.

During the 26-minute interview, Correa and Assange discussed the importance of the freedom of the media, the role that an independent press plays in a democracy, and the state of Latin American media institutions.

"We believe, my dear Julian, that the only things that should be protected against information sharing and freedom of speech are those set in the international treaties, in the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights: the dignity and the reputation of people, and the safety of people and the State," Correa said.  "The rest, the more people find out about it, the better."

"We have nothing to hide," he added.  "If anything, the WikiLeaks have made us stronger."  

He noted that he thought the tightly-knit fabric of the Ecuadorian media establishment tended to limit its scope and objectivity.  Assange responded by telling Correa that Ecuador sounded like "a very interesting place."

Assange has now been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since Tuesday.  He sought refuge with the Ecuadoreans while out on bail pending his extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning for two alleged sexual assaults.

Assange had been living under house arrest at the mansion of a supporter in the English countryside and was subject to an overnight curfew.  By spending Tuesday night in the embassy, he violated the terms of his bail and is subject to arrest if he exits the Embassy's property, Scotland Yard said on Wednesday.

He has also forfeited the $380,000 bail donated by his supporters.

Last month, the British Supreme Court upheld the validity of a Swedish prosecutor's arrest warrant, and he is subject to extradition to Sweden by the end of June.

In August 2010, police in Sweden began investigating accusations of sexual assault against Assange made by two women.  According to British police documents, one of the accusers claims Assange pulled her clothes off, pinioned her arms and legs and refused to use a condom.  She told a friend that the act was both violent and the worst sex she'd ever had.  A British attorney representing Swedish prosecutors told the court earlier this year that Assange had raped the second woman while she was sleeping.

Assange has denied any wrongdoing.

Assange accused Sweden of investigating him because of "political crimes" in the United States, "a place with the death penalty for said offenses."  His supporters say that he fears extradition from Sweden to the U.S. for prosecution.

Rafael Correa's current term as Ecuadorean president is set to expire in August 2013, but he is eligible to run for reelection for another term that would last until 2017.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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