Assange row: Ministers from across Americas to hold meeting

The diplomatic row between Britain and Ecuador over the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, is to be discussed by foreign ministers from across the Americas next week.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) has voted to hold a meeting next Friday following Ecuador's decision to grant political asylum to Assange, who is currently taking refuge in the South American country's embassy in London.

Assange has described the move as a "historic victory" but the British foreign secretary, William Hague, made it clear that the Australian would not be allowed safe passage out of the country.

The permanent council of the OAS decided that a meeting would be held in Washington DC after members voted on the issue. The US, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago opposed the resolution, but 23 members voted in favour of the meeting. There were five abstentions and three members were absent.

The OAS secretary general, José Miguel Insulza, said the meeting would not be about Assange but the "the problem posed by the threat or warning made to Ecuador by the possibility of an intervention into its embassy in London. The issue that concerns us is the inviolability of diplomatic missions of all members of this organisation, something that is of interest to all of us."

Assange has been in the Ecuadorean embassy for the past two months after facing extradition to Sweden accused of sexual assault. He denies the claims and fears being sent to the United States if he goes to Sweden.

Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, said in a radio interview on Friday that his nation was not trying to undermine Sweden's attempts to question Assange.

He said: "The main reason why Julian Assange was given diplomatic asylum was because his extradition to a third country was not guaranteed, in no way was it done to interrupt the investigations of Swedish justice over an alleged crime. In no way."

'Matter of regret'

Hague has said that diplomatic immunity should not be used to harbour alleged criminals.

Hague said it is a "matter of regret" that the Ecuadorian government granted the WikiLeaks founder political asylum. "We will not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the United Kingdom, nor is there any legal basis for us to do so," he said.

Ecuadorean ministers have accused the UK of threatening to attack the embassy to seize Assange, after it emerged that the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 could allow revocation of a building's diplomatic status if the foreign power occupying it "ceases to use land for the purposes of its mission or exclusively for the purposes of a consular post".

Under international law, diplomatic posts are considered the territory of the foreign nation.

The foreign secretary said there was no threat to storm the embassy. "We are talking about an act of Parliament in this country which stresses that it must be used in full conformity with international law," he said.

The Swedish foreign ministry said it has summoned Ecuador's ambassador over the Latin American country's "unacceptable" decision to grant asylum.

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