LONDON (Reuters) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on Thursday the “door was open” for talks to end his refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he holed up six months ago to avoid extradition to Sweden for alleged sex crimes.
However, Assange, 41, making his first public appearance for months, vowed to stay where he was while he remained under threat from U.S. authorities and said his website’s work would continue with the release of over a million more files.
“Six months ago - 185 days ago - I entered this building. It has become my home, my office and my refuge,” he said from a narrow balcony on the ground floor of the red-brick block in the affluent Knightsbridge area of London.
“Thanks to the principled stance of the Ecuadorian government and the support of its people, I am safe in this embassy and safe to speak from this embassy,” he told media from around the globe and 200 cheering supporters.
The speech was Assange’s second balcony appearance since he sought refuge in the embassy in June to avoid extradition from Britain to Sweden to face charges of rape and sexual assault, having exhausted all the legal tools at his disposal.
Assange says he fears extradition to Sweden would ultimately lead to him being sent to the United States, which is furious that WikiLeaks has leaked hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic and military cables,
Ecuador, whose President Rafael Correa is a self-declared enemy of “corrupt” media and U.S. “imperialism”, granted him political asylum in August.
The Foreign Office says Britain has a legal obligation to extradite him and he will be arrested if he leaves the embassy.
Assange said he would stay where he was while the threat against him and WikiLeaks from the U.S. authorities remained and the Australian government failed to defend him.
“However, the door is open, and the door has always been open, for anyone who wishes to use standard procedures to speak to me or guarantee my safe passage,” he said, adding WikiLeaks had more than a million files to release in 2013.
“Documents that affect every country in the world,” said Assange.
He appeared in good spirits as he addressed chanting supporters holding candles and banging drums under the watchful eye of police who have maintained a constant presence outside the embassy.
“I’d rather be fighting crime ... but needs must,” said one of the dozen officers posted outside.
Writing by Michael Holden; editing by Andrew Roche