Latin America Turns up Pressure on Britain over Assange

Britain came under pressure Monday after Ecuador's South American neighbours backed Quito's decision to grant Julian Assange asylum, but he remained a virtual prisoner in its London embassy.

The WikiLeaks founder made a defiant appearance from the balcony of the Ecuador embassy on Sunday, accusing the United States of conducting a "witch hunt" against his websites and praising Ecuador's "courage".

Foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), meeting in Ecuador's biggest city Guayaquil, expressed "solidarity" with the decision to grant asylum to the former computer hacker whose anti-secrecy website has enraged Washington.

They also declared support for Ecuador over the "threat of violation of its diplomatic mission", a reference to Britain highlighting an obscure 1987 law under which its police could enter the embassy and extract Assange.

A joint statement at the end of the meeting did however urge Ecuador and Britain "to pursue dialogue in search of a mutually acceptable solution".

Assange walked into the embassy two months ago to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and molestation made by two female WikiLeaks volunteers.

He made no direct reference to the allegations in his speech on Sunday, which was made from the balcony because Britain has said Assange will be arrested if he sets foot outside the embassy.

The 41-year-old Australian and his supporters argue that the allegations are politically motivated and that he will eventually be extradited to the United States.

WikiLeaks angered the United States by releasing tens of thousands of classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as often unflattering reports of US diplomats' views on world leaders.

Assange on Sunday called for US soldier Bradley Manning, the alleged source of the trove of secret government documents leaked by WikiLeaks, to be released from a military prison, claiming he had undergone harsh treatment in detention.

Addressing around 200 of his supporters who came to hear the speech in an upmarket district of London, Assange criticised the suggestion that Britain could revoke the embassy's diplomatic status and enter the building.

"If the UK did not throw away the Vienna Conventions the other night, that is because the world was watching," he claimed.

He also alleged that on the day before he was granted asylum he could hear "teams of police swarming up into the building through its internal fire escape".

The embassy occupies a small part of the red-brick mansion block.

Britain insists it never threatened to invade the building and merely made the Ecuadoran government aware of the existence of the law.

The Foreign Office made no immediate response to the declaration of support for Ecuador made at the UNASUR meeting on Sunday.

Britain is already at loggerheads with UNASUR member Argentina, which claims sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.

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