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Julian Assange says he will leave Ecuadorean embassy 'soon'

By Steven Erlanger

New York Times

LAST UPDATED: 5:14 p.m. HST, Aug 18, 2014

LONDON » Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who was given asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy here two years ago, said Monday that he "will be leaving the embassy soon" but provided no specifics.

In a long and wandering news conference at which he was accompanied by the Ecuadorean foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, Assange summarized his case, arguing that he had helped bring about needed change in the British extradition system and saying that his health was suffering after two years at the embassy.

Assange faces extradition to Sweden, which is investigating allegations of sexual misconduct, and the British police continue to post a 24-hour guard at the embassy at a cost of more than $10 million. Assange argues that he has not been charged with any crime and that he fears that if he leaves the embassy, he will be extradited to the United States. Investigations there continue into the disclosure of classified material to WikiLeaks, which posted material on its website and arranged for other news organizations, including The New York Times, to publish some of it.

The United States has not sought Assange's extradition, and there has been no public indictment of him.

The British media, especially Sky News, had reported before the news conference that Assange would announce that he was leaving the embassy to seek medical treatment. Quoting a WikiLeaks source, media reports said that he was suffering from heart arrhythmia, very high blood pressure and a chronic lung condition. On Monday, Assange said he had decided to leave "soon, but perhaps not for the reasons that the Murdoch press are saying at the moment." He did not elaborate.

Patiño said that Ecuador supported Assange and would continue to seek a negotiated legal end to the standoff. He described "two years of great uncertainty and lack of legal protection for everyone," and added: "The situation must come to an end. Two years have been definitely too long. It is time to free Julian Assange; it is time for his human rights to be respected."

Kristinn Hrafnsson, a spokesman for WikiLeaks, said that Assange would leave if Britain promised him safe passage but that he had no plans to turn himself in.

In June, Assange's lawyers petitioned a Swedish court to repeal a 2010 order to have him detained in Sweden, arguing that it could not be enforced while he was at the embassy and that it was restricting Assange's civil rights.

Assange has not been formally indicted in Sweden, but he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct involving two women he met during a visit to the country in 2010. He denies the allegations.

Britain ordered his extradition to Sweden in February 2011. Assange filed a series of appeals, but the courts ruled the extradition lawful in 2012. Assange, who had been on conditional bail, sought refuge in the embassy; Ecuador granted him asylum in August 2012.

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