London: Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on Wednesday said that his government is seriously considering the political asylum request of WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange.
On Wednesday, Ecuador's government had announced that it would decide on the fate of Assange within 24 hours.
In London, British police waited outside the Edwardian apartment block in the tony Knightsbridge district that houses the embassy poised to arrest the 40-year-old Australian should he try to leave.
Assange took refuge on Tuesday in Ecuador's embassy in London as his legal options ran out for avoiding extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning for alleged sex crimes.
British police say Assange has violated the terms of his bail, which include an overnight curfew, and is subject to arrest. But British officials concede he is beyond their grasp as long as he remains in the embassy, which is considered Ecuadorean territory.
The UK Foreign Office said British officials would "work with the Ecuadorean authorities to resolve this situation as soon as possible”.
In an interview with Venezuela's Telesur network in Brazil, the leftist President also said that he doesn't know Assange personally but felt empathy toward the WikiLeaks founder when he interviewed him last month.
Correa said Assange made it clear in his letter requesting asylum that "he wants to continue his mission in a country, and I cite it textually because the sentence impressed me a lot, that he wants to continue his mission of free expression without limits, to reveal the truth, in a place of peace dedicated to truth and justice."
Assange’s backers say the Swedish charges are just a pretext to get the Australian activist to the United States to stand trial for publishing tens of thousands of secret US documents.
Ecuadorean Ambassador Anna Alban said she had had "cordial and constructive" discussions with British officials on Wednesday.
Correa was asked in the Telesur interview in Rio, where he was attending an environmental summit, if he wasn't worried about hurting relations with Britain and responded with a characteristic dig at the United States.
"If relations with England are affected by an exile request, relations with the United States of America will be super affected because all the corrupt from Ecuador" have sought asylum there, Correa said, mention bankers and journalists.
Assange was arrested in London in December 2010 at Sweden's request. Since then he has been on bail and fighting extradition to the Scandinavian country, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual assaults on two women in August 2010.
He denies the allegations and says the case against him is politically motivated. He also claims extradition could be a first step in efforts to remove him to the United States, where he claims to have been secretly indicted over his website's disclosure of 250,000 State Department cables. The leaks of the secret diplomatic exchanges deeply angered the US government.
(With Agency inputs)
First Published: Thursday, June 21, 2012, 10:15