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Friday April 4, 2014 MYT 2:40:40 AM
Friday April 4, 2014 MYT 2:40:40 AM
by michael holden
LONDON (Reuters) - Sweden should question WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at Ecuador's London embassy about sex assault claims that have kept him stuck there for almost two years, Quito's ambassador to Britain said on Thursday.
His case is at a standstill, Ambassador Juan Falconi Puig told Reuters, and he could stay in the embassy indefinitely - protected by the asylum Ecuador has extended - if Stockholm does not break the logjam by sending someone to interrogate him.
Assange, 42, fled to the South American country's London embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition for questioning in Sweden over sex assault and rape allegations that he denies.
If he went to Sweden to answer the questions, Assange argues, Swedish authorities would hand him over to the United States where he would be tried for helping facilitate one of the largest information leaks in U.S. history.
"At the moment the case seems to be stuck," Falconi said London's Victoria train station where Ecuador is running a campaign to encourage British tourists to visit his country.
Asked who needed to act to end the impasse, he said: "It's the Swedish. If they want to move on the case it's as simple as the Sweden prosecutor (having) the questioning at the embassy.
"Anyone from Sweden would be very welcome at the embassy to have the questioning and they can move on the case."
Still, it is unlikely Assange would leave the cramped embassy soon. The Australian citizen risks arrest if he leaves the building because he has breached his British bail terms and London will not grant him safe passage.
In an interview on the first anniversary of his taking sanctuary in the embassy last June, Assange indicated he would not leave even if Sweden dropped its investigation against him.
"We all have a feeling ... that this is a situation that has to be solved. It's no good for anyone to have the case stuck," Falconi said. "But the first step will be to have the questioning. Unless we have the questioning, he may stay at the embassy as long as he needs."
He added Ecuador simply wanted to protect the human rights of Assange, who he said was in "very good health".
"For Ecuador it's a matter of principles, that's why Ecuador gives the protection," he said.
The Assange issue has put Britain and Ecuador at odds, with
London angered by the decision of Ecuador's socialist President Rafael Correa to grant him asylum and Quito unhappy at the British refusal to allow him safe passage.
Last July, Ecuador also said the London embassy had been bugged after a hidden microphone was found inside for which it blamed a British private surveillance company.
But Falconi, who said his country were very keen to boost tourist numbers visiting from Britain, said relations between the countries remained good.
"I would say that situation doesn't really affect the relationships between Great Britain and Ecuador," he said. "The British are just complying with the European arrest warrant."
(This story has been corrected to change "charges" to "investigation" in ninth paragraph)
(Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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