WikiLeaks founder's mom meets with Ecuador's president

Christine Assange, mother of WikiLeaks founder
QUITO, Ecuador -- The mother of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange met with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa here Wednesday to lobby for her son’s request for political asylum. Correa made no comment after the meeting, and it remains unclear how his government will decide the case.

Assange has been holed up for a month in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, awaiting word on his asylum petition. He is wanted in Sweden in connection with rape and sexual assault allegations and faces extradition from Britain if Ecuador denies his asylum request.

Assange's mother, Christine, an Australian national, arrived in Ecuador several days ago and has said she fears that Sweden  might send her son  to the U.S. to face espionage charges over WikiLeaks' publication of top-secret diplomatic cables.  She said a grand jury was convening in Virginia to consider such charges.

Assange told reporters in Ecuador that she felt abandoned by the Australian government, which she characterized as a “lap dog” of the U.S.

She spoke with Correa for half an hour Wednesday. Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, who accompanied Assange to the meeting, said a decision would be made sometime after the Olympic Games, which end Aug. 12.

 Assange said at a news conference after meeting with Correa that she had been received warmly in Ecuador.

“I am not here to demand anything of Ecuador, or its people, or its president. I am here humbly as a mother to present some facts. Of course I will be most grateful if asylum is granted," she said.

On Friday, Assange is to meet with former Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who has agreed to act as an attorney for her son.  Garzon is best known for issuing an arrest warrant for late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.


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-- Cristina Munoz in Ecuador and and Chris Kraul in Bogota, Colombia

Photo: Christine Assange, mother of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, answers questions from reporters at the Carondelet Palace in Quito, Ecuador, after meeting with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa to request political asylum for her son.  Credit: Rodrigo Buendia / AFP/Getty Images

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange defies British police

LONDON -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has defied a British police request to report to a London police station to begin extradition proceedings to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on sexual assault allegations.

Assange, who has won wide public support for revealing diplomatic and international business secrets on the WikiLeaks website, took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy this month, seeking political asylum.

Susan Benn, a member of the Julian Assange Defense Fund, read a statement outside the embassy Friday saying that Assange "has been advised that he should decline to comply with the police request."

It was no sign of disrespect, she insisted, but "under both international and domestic U.K. law, asylum assessments take priority over extradition claims."

"The issues faced by Mr. Assange are serious," she went on.  At stake was "the life and liberty" of Assange and those associated with WikiLeaks.

Before his move to the embassy, Assange, who denies wrongdoing, had been living under house arrest in Britain since December 2010, most of it spent in the country mansion of one of his supporters.

He has lost several appeals against his extradition; he reportedly fears that he could later be extradited to the United States, where he could face charges of espionage.

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Julian Assange of WikiLeaks gets extradition letter from British police


This post has been corrected. See note below.

LONDON -- Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks website angered American officials by releasing official U.S. documents, on Thursday received a letter demanding his presence at a London police station the following day to begin the process of extradition.

Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London last week, seeking political asylum in a last-ditch attempt to evade extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on allegations of rape and sexual assault. 

The 40-year-old Australian was first arrested in London in December 2010 at the request of Swedish prosecutors asking to question him on allegations of sexual abuse committed in Sweden the previous August.

He denies the accusations but has lost a string of appeals in British courts to avoid being handed over to Sweden’s judiciary for questioning. Assange says his chief fear is that this would lead to further extradition to the United States, where he could face trial for Wikileaks’ actions.

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Paraguay faces fallout after president's ouster

Paraguay's Lugo
SAO PAULO, Brazil -- The governments of South America have united to punish Paraguay for  removing President Fernando Lugo on Friday, suspending the country’s membership in regional organizations for what some leaders are calling a coup.

When news spread that the Paraguayan Senate had voted to oust the left-leaning former Catholic bishop, widespread condemnation came quickly from leaders in a region with bad memories of dictatorships and democratic instability. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said her government would not recognize the new government formed by Federico Franco, who served as Lugo’s vice president before turning against him.

“Argentina will not validate the coup d’etat in Paraguay,” Kirchner said. “This is about more than Lugo.... This is a definitive attack on institutions and a replay of situations we had thought were totally forgotten.”

For all of Latin America’s varied ideological stripes, the negative response was surprisingly unanimous. Left-wing governments in Venezuela and Ecuador announced they’d cut off shipments of oil. Chile’s conservative government pulled its ambassador from the country. Colombia’s president, Miguel Santos, issued a statement saying there may have been an “abuse” of the proceedings. And regional powerhouse Brazil has put forward the possibility of further sanctions against Asuncion.

U.S. State Department representative Victoria Nuland said on Monday that Washington is “quite concerned about the speed of the process used for this impeachment in Paraguay."

Paraguay has been suspended from both Unasur, or the Union of South American Nations, and Mercosur, the regional trading bloc, until new elections take place.

Mercosur will hold an emergency meeting this week in Argentina to decide what action to take against the poor, land-locked nation. Lugo continues to consider himself the legitimate president of Paraguay and said he will attend the summit to explain the situation. It’s unclear what effect the actions will have on the new government in Paraguay, which has denounced its dismissal from the organizations.

It’s also unclear why the Paraguayan Senate voted now to oust Lugo, who would have been replaced in nine months during an election in which he could not participate.  The Senate's  impeachment proceedings consisted of broad charges of mismanaging the country after a land dispute turned deadly. It was conducted in a matter of hours, and Lugo was not allowed to prepare his own defense. The vote was nearly unanimous.

The government of Mexico, which is not a member of the South American organizations, released a statement affirming that “even if the political judgment took place according to the procedures established in the Paraguayan Constitution, Mexico considers that the proceedings did not give ex-President Lugo the time and space needed for the defense he had a right to.”


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-- Vincent Bevins

Photo: Ousted Paraguay President Fernando Lugo gives one of his bodyguards a traditional drink before a meeting  in Asuncion, Paraguay. Credit: Cesar Olmedo / Associated Press





Assange interview with Ecuador leader shows rapport [Video]

As WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holes up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London seeking political asylum, and facing arrest if he steps outside, a televised interview gives clues as to why the famous freedom-of-information activist turned to Ecuador for help.

Assange has been battling extradition to Sweden over accusations of sexual assault, claiming that he would be shunted to the United States and prosecuted for revealing its secrets. While under house arrest in Britain, Assange interviewed Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on his show, "The World Tomorrow," on Russia Today.

The videolink interview above reveals the philosophical harmony and rapport between the two men, who traded praise for each other. During the roughly 25-minute show, the leftist Correa denounced the United States as an arrogant, overreaching power and praised WikiLeaks for shedding light on its actions.

Correa argued that leaked diplomatic cables "made us stronger" because the key accusations were "due to our excessive nationalism and defense of the sovereignty of the Ecuadorean government." Last year, Ecuador expelled U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges after the cables were released by WikiLeaks. The leaked cables included revelations that Hodges suspected Correa of knowing about police corruption.

As Assange grinned and chuckled at his remarks about U.S. power -- at one point he quipped that Latin America was moving from "the Washington consensus" to "the Consensus without Washington" -- Correa asked through an interpreter, "Are you having a lot of fun with the interview, Julian?"

"I am enjoying your jokes a great deal, yes," Assange replied with a smile.

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Wikileaks founder Assange seeks asylum from Ecuador

EcuadorWikileaks founder Julian Assange is seeking political asylum from Ecuador, less than a week after Britain's Supreme Court ruled he could be extradited to Sweden over allegations of sexual assault, Ecuadorean officials said Tuesday.

Ecuador's foreign ministry said that Assange had turned up at its London Embassy, lamenting that his own country, Australia, had abandoned him, and argued that he was being politically persecuted by Sweden in collusion with the United States. The ministry said it would weigh his request.

Seeking help from Ecuador is the latest twist in the lengthy international saga for Assange, idolized by Internet activists and reviled by governments for airing official secrets on his Wikileaks website. A Swedish prosecutor first sought Assange for questioning nearly two years ago, after two women accused him of sexual assault during a Swedish lecture tour.

Assange traveled to Britain, where he has fought a lengthy legal battle against being sent to Sweden, arguing that the allegations were a politically motivated ploy to set the stage for his prosecution in the United States.

In his bid for asylum in Ecuador, Assange argued he could face the death penalty for "political crimes" in the United States, where he claims he has been secretly indicted.

The Wikileaks website has angered the Obama administration and other governments by releasing secret Pentagon documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with a vast trove of State Department cables. The former U.S. Army analyst suspected of leaking information to the site, Bradley Manning, is in custody and could face life in prison if convicted of charges such as aiding the enemy.

Ecuador has an intriguing tie to the Wikileaks debate: Last year, the country expelled U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges after leaked diplomatic cables showed she had suspected President Rafael Correa of looking the other way at police corruption.

Ecuador also flirted with giving Assange residency two years ago, when its deputy foreign minister reportedly said he was worried by alleged U.S. activities revealed by Wikileaks and wanted to offer a haven for Assange to speak out. President Correa quickly said he had not approved the offer.

The Internet hacking and protest group Anonymous called for supporters to flood Ecuador's embassy with letters backing Assange.


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Photo: Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, speaks during a news conference in Quito on Tuesday. Credit: Cancilleria / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

President Rafael Correa defends Ecuador's air defenses

Diego Garcia Sayan (left) and Rafael Correa
QUITO, Ecuador –- Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on Monday defended his country’s air defenses after a small plane linked to Mexican drug traffickers this month crashed undetected on the country’s northwestern coast, raising fears among foreign officials that cartels are trying to establish a new “air bridge.”

In a Twitter message, Correa rejected the notion that Ecuador’s “air defense is defenseless,” saying the country has a full complement of supersonic and propeller-driven aircraft to secure airspace, in addition to “powerful radar systems still being tested but which before didn’t exist.”

On May 13, a single-engine Cessna 210 crashed in coastal Manabi province, killing two Mexican pilots, one of whom had a previous arms-related conviction that linked him to the Sinaloa cartel. Found in the wreckage was a suitcase filled with $1.3 million in cash. Traces of cocaine were also in the plane, which apparently ran out of fuel, law enforcement officials told The Times.

That the plane managed to penetrate Ecuadorean airspace without being detected by local authorities has provoked criticism among Correa opponents for his refusal in 2009 to renew the U.S. lease of the Manta air base. The base, located in Manabi province, was used by reconnaissance aircraft to monitor smuggling operations in the eastern Pacific.

Two AWACS radar planes and one P-3 reconnaissance aircraft were based in Manta until September 2009, when the surveillance operation was transferred to bases in north-central Colombia. Ecuadorean fishermen complained at the time that U.S.-led counternarcotics operations based in Manta led to human rights abuses and financial losses.

The crash has prompted questions among Correa critics about the status of a $60-million Chinese radar system the country ordered after Colombian bombers and commandos briefly invaded northern Ecuador in March 2008 to kill top ranking rebel commander Raul Reyes of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Air Force officials on Monday did not respond to a request for a status update on its installation.

Foreign counternarcotics officials fear that Colombian and Mexican drug traffickers may turn to Ecuador as an air hub from which to fly drugs north toward North America, as well as to return cash to Andean cocaine producers. Ecuador already has seen sharp increases in maritime smuggling via fishing boats and submarine-like vessels leaving its shores.

The May incident is the first known example of an airplane flying illicit routes in a bid to land in Ecuador with suspected drug profits or take off with a cargo of drugs, officials told The Times. Residents in the crash area told reporters they heard the plane flying low and without its lights on just before the crash.

One official commenting on condition that he not be named said that police in Venezuela, where more than 90% of such illicit flights have originated in the past, recently have cracked down. On May 16, authorities in Ecuador raided a drug processing lab near the crash site, seizing half a ton of cocaine.

El Comercio newspaper of Quito on Saturday said it found three crude airstrips in Manabi whose use are barely monitored by civil aviation authorities. Residents told the newspaper they saw an aircraft resembling the crashed plane on one of the strips in Jama three months before the crash.


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-- Chris Kraul in Bogota, Colombia, and Cristina Munoz in Quito, Ecuador

Photo: A photo released by the Ecuadorean presidency shows President Rafael Correa, right, meeting with Diego Garcia Sayan, president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, at Carondelet Palace in Quito in April. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

High-ranking Colombian FARC rebel captured in Ecuador

QUITO, Ecuador, and BOGOTA, Colombia --  An Ecuadorean judge on Tuesday ordered the indefinite jailing of a suspected Colombian rebel leader captured a day earlier by Ecuadorean forces just a few miles from the border.

Wilson Tapiero, the alleged financial chief of the 48th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was captured near the spot where Colombian commandos briefly invaded in 2008 to kill the FARC's second-ranking leader.

Three men and three women were also arrested on a farm in northeastern Ecuador.  Army units also recovered arms, motorcycles, uniforms and FARC literature.

Army Col. Arturo Coral said the purpose of the suspected rebels’ presence and activities was unknown, although the Colombian rebel group has been known to use lightly patrolled Ecuadorean border jungle areas as sanctuaries from pursuit by the Colombian military.

In March 2008, Colombian military commandos briefly crossed one mile into Ecuadorean territory and killed the FARC's then second in command, alias Raul Reyes, and 24 others. The incident nearly led to war as Ecuador and Venezuela called up military units to their borders with Colombia.

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Ecuadorean president pardons newspaper in defamation case

Ecuador President Rafael Correa
REPORTING FROM QUITO, ECUADOR, AND LOS ANGELES--Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on Monday pardoned three owner-editors and a columnist at the El Universo newspaper who had been convicted of defaming him in a controversial press freedom case.

Brothers Carlos, Cesar and Nicolas Perez and columnist Emilio Palacio had been ordered to pay $42 million in fines and serve three years in prison for publishing an allegedly libelous opinion piece by Palacio in February 2011 in the Guayaquil-based paper, the nation's second largest.

In the article, Palacio referred to Correa as a dictator and accused him of ordering authorities to fire indiscriminately at a hospital crowded with civilians during a 2010 police mutiny.

"Even though many don't want me to make concessions to those who don't deserve it, this is something that I decided in my heart to do some time ago, along with relatives, friends and close comrades, to pardon the accused and to revoke the sentences they deservedly got," Correa said during a televised speech at the presidential palace in Quito on Monday.

He added that the sentence proved three things: that the editors lied, that a newspaper is responsible for what its writers publish and that citizens shouldn't be afraid of confronting the news media.

"It showed you can prevail against abuses of media power," Correa said of the libel verdicts, which were upheld this month by the nation's supreme court. Correa said at that time that he was considering pardons, partly to keep his political programs on track.

Press freedom advocates, while acknowledging that the newspaper went overboard in its antagonistic coverage of Correa, criticized the verdicts as excessive and as having a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

Correa's pardon is the second given to Palacio in defamation cases in three years. Correa earlier had ignored a request from the the Organization of American States' human rights panel to reconsider his suit. Since the beginning of the case, Correa had said he would drop it if El Universo issued an apology, which it refused to do. Two of the Perez brothers have fled the country, as did Palacio, who sought political asylum in the U.S.

Correa also said Monday that he was dropping his suit against authors of a book called "Big Brother" who wrote that the leader knew of and tolerated his brother Fabricio's allegedly corrupt business practices. Correa has acknowledged his brother was involved in shady dealings but he said he had no advance knowledge of them.


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Photo: Ecuador's President Rafael Correa during a news conference at the presidential palace in Quito. Credit: Dolores Ochoa / Associated Press 

Ecuador president may pardon newspaper owners and columnist

Ecuador President Rafael Correa
REPORTING FROM QUITO, ECUADOR, AND BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa hinted Thursday that he was considering a pardon for the owners of El Universo newspaper and a columnist whose multimillion-dollar fines and jail terms for allegedly defaming the leader were upheld by the nation’s highest court.

At a Thursday news conference, Correa hailed the “historic” verdicts that he said upheld the principles of democracy and liberty. But he also reminded reporters that he had the power to pardon the defendants.

“I’m going to talk about [granting pardons] with my friends, my closest circle, because the last thing I want to do is damage my political goals,” Correa said. “We have to see what is best for democracy, for the country.”

Correa attended a 15-hour hearing of the National Court of Justice in Quito, the nation’s highest court, at which judges refused to annul a lower court’s sentencing of the Guayaquil newspaper’s owners and editors Carlos, Cesar and Nicolas Perez to $42 million in fines and three years in jail.

Correa’s lawsuit has attracted condemnation among press freedom and human rights groups, while some analysts have said El Universo went too far with its antagonistic coverage of the president.

The Perez brothers were not present at the hearing. Cesar and Nicolas fled to Miami this month and said they will seek “international support.” Carlos Perez is the only brother still in Ecuador -- holed up in the Panamanian Embassy in Quito, where he is seeking asylum. (Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said on his Twitter account Thursday that he will grant the request.)

Emilio Palacio, whose February 2011 column in the Guayaquil newspaper provoked the president's lawsuit, also has been sentenced to jail. He fled to Miami in August and said he will seek political asylum.

In his column, Palacio described the democratically elected president as a “dictator” and accused the president of having ordered authorities “to fire at their discretion at a hospital full of civilians” during a police mutiny in September 2010. The lower court found Palacio didn’t prove the charges and found him and his bosses liable.

Palacio was convicted in 2009 for a previous column attacking an official in Correa's government. The offended official personally pardoned him.

The court ruling left El Universo’s future in doubt. The owners have previously said that having to pay the fine would be the death knell of the paper, Ecuador’s second largest.

In an editorial published Thursday, the newspaper said it would “continue working faithfully in its commitment to ethical principles of journalism and in defense of the interests of Ecuadoreans” while it looked for support among international organizations.

The Perez brothers have said they will appeal to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States.

Pending is another defamation case brought by Correa against reporters who wrote that his brother was involved in corrupt contracting practices. Although Correa has acknowledged that his brother was involved in shady dealings, he denies any prior knowledge of them, contrary to what the reporters wrote.


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Photo: Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa in Quito on Thursday. Credit: Dolores Ochoa / Associated Press


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