Ecuador suspends Assange's citizenship -foreign minister

by Reuters
Thursday, 11 April 2019 13:41 GMT

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By Alexandra Valencia

QUITO, April 11 (Reuters) - Ecuador has suspended Julian Assange's citizenship and accused him and members of his WikiLeaks group of collaborating in attempts to destabilize the Andean nation's government.

A bearded and frail-looking Assange was arrested by British police on Thursday after Ecuador terminated his asylum at its London embassy, where he had been holed up since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault investigation.

Assange's Ecuadorean citizenship was suspended on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Jose Valencia told reporters on Thursday.

To some, Australian-born Assange is a hero for exposing what supporters cast as abuse of power and for championing free speech. To others, he is a dangerous rebel who has undermined the security of the United States.

WikiLeaks angered Washington by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables that laid bare often highly critical U.S. appraisals of world leaders, from Russian President Vladimir Putin to members of the Saudi royal family.

Assange was offered refuge in 2012 by Ecuador's then-president Rafael Correa, but his relationship with Ecuador has soured under Correa's successor Lenin Moreno, who has said Assange has violated the terms of his asylum.

Moreno was angered after private photographs of him and his family taken years ago when they lived in Europe circulated on social media. His government said it believed the photos were shared by WikiLeaks.

Assange and WikiLeaks have intervened in Ecuadorean affairs and people close to him, including two Russian hackers, are living in Ecuador, Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo told reporters in Quito.

"The interferences in matters of other states also includes the interference of Mr. Assange and his allied organization in internal political matters in Ecuador," Romo said.

The third person living in Ecuador is a high-level member of WikiLeaks and is connected to former Ecuadorean foreign minister Ricardo Patino, who was serving under Correa when Assange was granted asylum, Romo said.

"We have evidence that they have collaborated in attempts to destabilize the government and that they work closely with and have traveled with Ricardo Patino," Romo said.

"They have traveled on two occasions to Peru, Spain and most recently in February 2019 they traveled for one day to Venezuela," she said.

Patino denied the allegations.

"The minister Maria Paula Romo has just invented a story about a supposed relationship of mine with Russian hackers," Patino said on Twitter. "The only thing left is for her to say where we left Red Riding Hood and Sleeping Beauty." (Reporting by Alexandra Valencia Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Helen Murphy and Bill Rigby)

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