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Assange, Ecuador’s awkward guest who just won’t leave


Quito, Ecuador | AFP |

For Ecuador, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has become the worst kind of guest: he makes messes he doesn’t clean up, he spills secrets, he meddles, and there’s no telling when he will leave.

Four years after Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, the tension between host and guest is plain to see.

Ecuador said Tuesday it has cut Assange’s internet access because of leaks by his anti-secrecy website “impacting on the US election” — a reference to the release of a damaging trove of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The leaks have put Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa’s government in an awkward position.

Back in June 2012, offering Assange refuge was a waggish way for Correa, a radical economist, to thumb his nose at the United States, the domineering neighbor that the Latin American left has long loved to hate.

WikiLeaks had infuriated Washington by leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables and secret files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In granting Assange asylum, Ecuador backed his argument that the criminal investigation he was fleeing — for accusations of rape and sexual assault in Sweden — was a smokescreen to extradite him to the United States.

But Assange appears to have gone too far by letting WikiLeaks wade into the US election with hacks that have embarrassed Clinton and effectively helped her Republican rival, Donald Trump.

Clinton’s team blames the Russian government for hacking Democratic Party emails and the Gmail account of campaign chairman John Podesta — a view shared by the US government.

With polls showing Clinton likely to beat the volatile billionaire on November 8, and recession-hit Ecuador needing to make nice with the superpower to the north, Assange may now be wearing out his welcome.

“Of course Correa’s government is uncomfortable,” said Mauricio Gandara, who is in a position to know, as Ecuador’s former ambassador in London.

“The government is scared because it understands Clinton is probably going to win and could make them pay,” he told AFP.

Ecuador plays nice 

Correa has repeatedly voiced his support for Clinton in the election.

WikiLeaks on Monday accused Ecuador of severing Assange’s communications at the behest of Clinton’s successor as secretary of state, John Kerry.

“That’s just not true,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday.

Ecuador also implicitly denied the claim, saying it “does not yield to pressure from other states.”

But Ecuador is keener to pursue good neighborly relations with the United States than it was in 2012.

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