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Ecuador grants Julian Assange asylum

LONDON -- He's won asylum in Ecuador, but Julian Assange is no closer to getting there.

The decision by the South American nation to identify the WikiLeaks founder as a refugee is a symbolic boost for the embattled ex-hacker. But legal experts say that does little to help him avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations.

Instead, with British officials asserting they won't grant Assange safe passage out of the country, the case has done much to drag the two nations into an international faceoff.

"We're at something of an impasse," said Rebecca Niblock, a London defense lawyer who handles extradition cases. "It's not a question of law anymore. It's a question of politics and diplomacy."

Assange, an Australian, gained fame in 2010 after he began publishing a huge trove of American diplomatic and military secrets -- including a quarter million U.S. Embassy cables that shed a harsh light on the backroom dealings of U.S. diplomats. Amid the ferment, two Swedish women accused him of sexual assault; Assange has been fighting extradition to Sweden ever since.

Interpol, the Lyon, France-based international police agency, issued a statement late yesterday saying Assange remains on the its most-wanted list.

The saga took its latest twist yesterday, when Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said he had granted asylum to Assange, who has been inside the Ecuadorean Embassy since June 19. He said Ecuador was taking action because Assange faces a serious threat of unjust prosecution at the hands of U.S. officials.

That was a nod to the fears expressed by Assange and others that the Swedish sex case is merely the opening gambit in a Washington-orchestrated plot to make him stand trial in the United States -- something disputed by both Swedish authorities and the women involved. In a message posted to its Twitter account, WikiLeaks said Assange would make a public statement outside Ecuador's embassy on Sunday afternoon -- potentially offering British police the chance to arrest him. The secret-spilling website did not immediately respond to attempts to contact it to provide additional details.

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