Ecuador attempted to give Assange diplomat post in Russia: document

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, in this May 19, 2017 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Ecuador attempted to give Assange diplomat post in Russia: document

  • “Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats

QUITO: Ecuador in 2017 gave Wikileaks founder Julian Assange a diplomatic post in Russia but rescinded it after Britain refused to give him diplomatic immunity, according to an Ecuadorean government document seen by Reuters.
The aborted effort suggests Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno had engaged Moscow to resolve the situation of Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy for six years to avoid arrest by British authorities on charges of skipping bail.
The incident was revealed in a letter by Ecuador’s foreign ministry to a legislator who had asked for information about Ecuador’s decision last year to grant Assange citizenship.
Ecuador last Dec. 19 approved a “special designation in favor of Mr. Julian Assange so that he can carry out functions at the Ecuadorean Embassy in Russia,” according to the letter written to opposition legislator Paola Vintimilla.
“Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats.
But Britain’s Foreign Office in a Dec. 21 note said it did not accept Assange as a diplomat and that it did not “consider that Mr. Assange enjoys any type of privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention,” reads the letter, citing a British diplomatic note.
Ecuador abandoned its decision shortly after, according to the letter.
British authorities have said they will arrest Assange if he leaves the embassy, meaning he would have needed to be recognized as a diplomat in order to travel to Moscow.
Lawyers for Assange in the United States and Britain did not respond to requests for comment. WikiLeaks website did not respond to an email seeking comment. The Ecuadorean foreign ministry could not be reached for comment.
The plan to make Assange an Ecuadorean diplomat was made public last year, but the effort to send him to Moscow has not been previously reported.
US intelligence agencies in 2017 said they believed WikiLeaks was an intermediary used by Russia to publish emails hacked from top Democrats to embarrass 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
US President Donald Trump faces an investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia to win that election. Assange denies receiving the emails from Russia, but has not ruled out having obtained them from a third party. Trump and Russia deny collusion.
The Guardian newspaper on Friday reported that Russian diplomats held secret talks in London to help Assange flee Britain through an operation tentatively scheduled for Christmas Eve, 2017.
The story, which cited unidentified sources, said “details of the plan were sketchy” and that it was aborted because it was deemed too risky.
“The Embassy has never engaged either with Ecuadorian colleagues, or with anyone else, in discussions on any kind of Russia’s participation in ending Mr.Assange’s stay within the diplomatic mission of Ecuador,” Russia’s embassy in London wrote on its web site in a response to The Guardian story.
It was not immediately evident if Ecuadorean officials had any contact with Russia as part of the Assange appointment.
Reuters was unable to obtain comment from Russia’s foreign ministry on Ecuador’s plan to make him a diplomat there.
The letter from Ecuador’s foreign ministry was a summary of 28 documents that were sent to Vintimilla in response to her request.
Among those documents is a Dec. 4 letter from Assange in which he renounced his request for political asylum from Ecuador in preparation to become an Ecuadorean diplomat. The letter, which was seen by Reuters, said he ultimately planned to travel to Ecuador.
Vintimilla, who discussed some of the documents during a Thursday press conference, said Assange should lose his citizenship as a result of that letter.
Assange sought asylum in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questions about allegations of sex crimes, accusations that were later dropped.
Ecuador’s president Moreno has said Assange’s asylum cannot be eternal, but has also been reluctant to abruptly halt it on concerns that Assange’s human rights could be at risk.


Strasbourg gunman Cherif Chekatt shot dead by police

Updated 14 December 2018
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Strasbourg gunman Cherif Chekatt shot dead by police

  • Chekatt was killed after firing on police officers, who returned fire
  • Reporters near the scene heard three to four gunshots after a huge police operation

LONDON: A gunman on the run since he killed three people at Strasbourg’s popular Christmas market has been shot dead by police.

More than 700 French security forces had been hunting for 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt since the bloodshed on Tuesday night.

Cherif Chekatt was killed in the Neudorf/Meinau area of the city after a police operation was launched around 2100 hrs (2000 GMT) on Thursday about 2 kilometers from where he launched his attack on Tuesday.

Chekatt was killed after firing on police officers, who returned fire, a source said.

Reporters near the scene heard three to four gunshots after a huge police operation with armed forces from the BRI and RAID units. A police helicopter had been circling overhead.

The death toll from Tuesday’s attack rose to three as police on Thursday combed the city in the east of France for a second day and manned checkpoints on the German border.

Police issued a wanted poster in multiple languages for Chekatt, who was the main suspect in the attack and who had been on a watchlist as a potential security threat.

Authorities say the 29-year-old was known to have developed radical religious views while in jail.

Earlier in the day armed and masked police swooped on Strasbourg neighborhoods with elite RAID officers fanning out across three locations in late afternoon, including the area where Chekatt was last seen.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said Chekatt’s parents and two brothers were being held in custody.

Two of his sisters in Paris were also questioned on Thursday and one of their homes was searched, a judicial source said.