U.S. News

Ecuador offers residency to WikiLeaks' Assange

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, which has made public about 500,000 classified U.S. files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, holds a news conference at the Geneva Press Club in Geneva, November 4, 2010, the day before the United Nation's Human Rights Council examines the U.S. human rights record in its universal periodic review programme. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud

QUITO (Reuters) - An Ecuadorean government official has invited the founder of the WikiLeaks whistleblower website to live and lecture in the country, days after the site caused an international uproar by releasing additional sensitive U.S. documents.

Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas told local media that Ecuador was attempting to get in touch with WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange to invite him to the country, praising his work as an investigator.

Ecuador is part of a leftist bloc of governments in South America, including Venezuela and Bolivia, that have been highly critical of U.S. policy in the region.

More than 250,000 State Department cables were obtained by WikiLeaks and given to media groups, which began publishing stories on Sunday exposing the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy, including candid and embarrassing assessments of world leaders. WikiLeaks previously had released U.S. documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We are inviting him to give conferences and, if he wants, we have offered him Ecuadorean residency,” Lucas said in an interview published on Tuesday in local newspaper Hoy.

Australian citizen Assange’s whereabouts are not known and he is believed to move from country to country. He had been seeking residency in Sweden but is now wanted in that country on sexual abuse charges that the former hacker says are part of a conspiracy against him.

Asked if the offer of residency was a formal invitation from the government, Lucas said, “sure.”

The U.S. government said on Monday it deeply regretted the release of any classified information and would tighten security to prevent leaks such as WikiLeaks’ disclosure of a trove of State Department cables. The U.S. Justice Department said it was conducting a criminal investigation of the leaks.

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Will Dunham