Assange asylum 'embarrassing'

AUSTRALIA'S has been "embarrassed" by Ecuador's decision to grant political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said.

Senator Ludlam said the work done by the South American country in assessing Mr Assange's asylum claim should have been carried out by the Australian government two years ago, when Mr Assange was first detained in Britain.

Ecuador now faces the not insignificant hurdle of securing safe passage out of Britain for Mr Assange, who is wanted in Sweden for questioning over sexual assault allegations.

Britain maintains it will arrest Mr Assange as soon as he leaves the embassy.

Mr Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy two months ago after attempts to fight extradition to Sweden failed in the courts.

The 41-year-old Australian citizen's greatest fear is being extradited to the United States, the country perhaps most embarrassed by the work of WikiLeaks.

Senator Ludlam said the time had come for Australia to follow Ecuador's lead in protecting Mr Assange's human rights.

"His (Mr Assange) case has merit. This is embarrassing for the Australian government, but it does have the opportunity now to redeem itself," Senator Ludlam said.

He said Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr needed to act immediately to help Mr Assange, including encouraging Sweden to interview Mr Assange immediately via video-link; urging the British government to "lay off" the Ecuadorian embassy, and asking the United States if it had plans to prosecute Mr Assange.

Senator Ludlam said "pressure from the United States" was behind Australia's reluctance to lobby more vigorously on Mr Assange's behalf.

He denied asking Sweden to speed up its investigation would amount to legal interference.

"We're not seeking that Foreign Minister Carr or the Attorney-General intervene in legal cases, we're asking for diplomatic and political intervention," he said.

But a spokesman for Senator Carr said Australia had no intention of telling Sweden "how to run their case".

The spokesman said Australia had sought from Sweden assurances of due process and family contact for Mr Assange.

However, Ecuador's decision to grant Mr Assange asylum was a "matter between Ecuador and the UK", he said.

"Ecuador's finding that he is being persecuted has no reflection on us at all," he added.

The spokesman said Australia would continue to offer Mr Assange "consular assistance" and would remain in contact with the Ecuadorian embassy every four days to check on his health and welfare.

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