Published on Aug 20, 2012
Oh, what a circus! Assange taunts UK from embassy balcony
This is the moment WikiLeaks fugitive Julian Assange emerged from hiding at the Ecuadorian Embassy to mock Britain's threats to arrest him yesterday.
Ringed by police ready to apprehend him if he set foot on the pavement, the 41-year-old condemned his accusers and praised 'courageous' Ecuador for giving him asylum.
In bizarre scenes reminiscent of a Latin American dictator addressing the masses, the WikiLeaks founder stepped on to the balcony of the embassy in Knightsbridge, West London, under the noses of the British Establishment.
Assange is wanted in Sweden on rape and sex assault charges, which he denies, but portrayed himself as a martyr for free speech who faced oppression from a 'war on whistle-blowers'.
In a rambling speech, frequently disrupted by police helicopters, he accused the US of a 'witch-hunt' that threatened freedom of expression. Ironically, he then thanked a roll-call of Latin American countries, most of which are routinely criticised for their appalling track record over freedom of speech and human rights.
It was the first time he had been seen in public since he walked into the embassy two months ago to claim asylum from a country known for persecuting journalists.
Britain has vowed to arrest him if he steps outside. It cannot send police inside the embassy under the terms of the Vienna Convention, but last week Ecuador reacted angrily to 'threats' from the Foreign Office to invoke an obscure law to rescind the building's diplomatic protection and seize Assange.
Dozens of officers have surrounded the building for days to ensure he is not smuggled out, costing taxpayers £50,000 a day.
But safe from arrest on the embassy's balcony, Assange addressed a motley audience of die-hard supporters, sightseers, journalists and bemused customers from Harrods. Assange claimed he had heard police inside the mansion block building and said a core of protesters who have maintained a vigil outside the embassy had protected him.