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Britain warns Ecuador it can arrest Julian Assange

Julian Assange has been taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 19. Photo: Sean Dempsey/PA Archive

They have not said that they will. But they have warned that they can.

In exchanges on Wednesday, the British Foreign Office warned the Ecuadorian embassy in London that it can, if it chooses, enter the premises to arrest the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

That would be a highly unusual move. The Ecuardorians claim it would be a "clear breach" of international law.

Assange has been taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 19.

It clearly ramps up the pressure on both sides. If the British government decided to annul the diplomatic status of the embassy in order to send in police officers it would be the first time British law enforcement officers have entered another country's embassy since 1984. That was during the siege at the Libyan embassy in which police officer Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead.

Foreign Office sources say the power to cancel the special legal status granted to every embassy rests with the Foreign Secretary William Hague. No legislation is required should he wish to use it.

The warning from the Foreign Office is designed to force Ecuador to hand over Julian Assange rather than face the potential diplomatic closure of the premises.

In other words: leave him at the gate or we will come through it.

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