Two years after being granted asylum by Ecuador, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday announced that he would ‘soon’ leave its embassy in London, where he took refuge to avoid arrest and extraditon to Sweden to face sexual assault charges.
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Looking pale, Assange, 43, did not confirm reports that he had developed a heart defect and a chronic lung condition, but said he had faced the effects of anyone who is confined indoors and is not exposed to sunlight and fresh air for a prolonged time.
Assange, who appeared at the press conference in the embassy with the Ecuador foreign minister Ricardo Patino, did not clarify what he meant by leaving the embassy ‘soon’, but as the law stands, he faces arrest and extradition if he steps outside the embassy precincts.Watch: WikiLeaks founder says he will leave Ecuador embassy soon
Assange said: "I can confirm I will be leaving the embassy soon." The reasons for leaving the embassy were not those ‘reported by the Murdoch press’, he added, indicating to reports of ill health in sections of the British press.
Patino said: "It is time to free Julian Assange. It is time for his human rights to be finally respected."
The Metropolitan Police Service officers have been stationed outside the embassy since the day Assange entered the building in August 2012, and have been ordered to arrest him if he attempts to leave.
Assange said: “The broader geopolitics is that the world is going crazy. Maybe it’s time to think that WikiLeaks is not the main problem here for the West, maybe me and my publishing house are a lesser threat than say the Islamic State in Iraq or, closer to home, paedophiles in Westminster.”
He added: “Why are they burning £240,000 a month on me which could be better spent on hospital beds, meals for the needy or teachers’ salaries? The Metropolitan Police Service has now spent in excess of £7 million on guarding the embassy, which is a ridiculous waste of taxpayers’ money.”