Quito: Ecuador has granted political asylum to WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said on Thursday, a day after the British government threatened to storm the Ecuadorean embassy in London to arrest Assange.

Britain has said it is determined to extradite the former computer hacker, who enraged Washington in 2010 when his WikiLeaks website published secret U.S. diplomatic cables, to Sweden where he has been accused of rape and sexual assault.    

"Ecuador has decided to grant political asylum to Julian Assange following the request sent to the President," Patino told a press conference in Quito.

He argued that Assange's personal security was at risk, extradition to a third country without proper guarantees was probable, and legal evidence showed he would not have a fair trial if eventually transferred to the United States.

"This is a sovereign decision protected by international law. It makes no sense to surmise that this implies a breaking of relations (with Britain)," Patino added.

Even with asylum granted, Assange has little chance of leaving the Ecuadorean embassy in London without being arrested.

There has been speculation he could travel to an airport in a diplomatic car, be smuggled out in a diplomatic bag, or even be appointed an Ecuadorean diplomat to give him immunity.

But lawyers and diplomats see those scenarios as practically unworkable.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa is a self-declared enemy of "corrupt" media and U.S. "imperialism," and part of a left-leaning block of South American leaders.

He apparently hit it off with Assange during a TV interview the Australian did with him in May. Correa joked then with Assange that he had joined "the club of the persecuted".

Foreign minister Patino called the U.K. government's threat to enter the embassy "brutal," and acknowledged the only way Assange could travel to Ecuador would be if Britain grants him a safe pass to travel to an airport.

TIMELINE OF MOST IMPORTANT EVENTS

June 7, 2010 - The U.S. military says Army Specialist Bradley Manning, who was deployed to Baghdad, has been arrested in connection with the release of a classified video showing a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in the Iraqi capital. Accused of leaking government files to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and of aiding the enemy - identified as al Qaeda - Manning faces a court-martial in September 2012.

July 25 - More than 91,000 documents, most of them secret U.S. military reports about the war in Afghanistan, are released by WikiLeaks.org. In October, WikiLeaks releases another 400,000 classified military files chronicling the war in Iraq from 2004 to 2009, the largest leak of its kind in U.S. military history.

Nov. 18 - A Swedish court orders Assange's detention due to an investigation by a Swedish prosecutor into allegations against him of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.

Nov. 28 - WikiLeaks releases thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables that include candid views of foreign leaders and blunt assessments of security threats.

Dec. 7 - Assange is arrested by British police on a European warrant issued by Sweden and held in jail after a judge refuses to grant bail. Bail, set at 200,000 pounds, is eventually granted on Dec. 16.

Aug. 25, 2011 - WikiLeaks releases thousands of previously unpublished U.S. diplomatic cables from its cache of more than 250,000 State Department reports.

Oct. 24 - Assange says WikiLeaks will have to stop publishing secret cables and devote itself to fund-raising.

Nov. 2 - Britain's High Court rules Assange should be extradited to Sweden. A month later, Assange is given permission to appeal. However, the court backs Assange's extradition to Sweden in May 2012 over alleged sex crimes. Assange appeals in June, but it is rejected.

June 19 - Assange takes refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London and asks for political asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden. Police say the next day he faces arrest for breaking the conditions of his bail.

Aug. 16 - Ecuador grants Assange political asylum.

(Agencies)

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