Quito: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up at Ecuador's London embassy for five months, has a lung condition that could get worse, the South American country's envoy to Britain said.

"He has a chronic lung condition that could worsen at any time," Ambassador Ana Alban told reporters yesterday ahead of an annual gathering of Ecuador's diplomatic corps with President Rafael Correa in Quito.

In an interview with CNN from Ecuador's embassy in London, the 41-year-old Assange himself refused to offer details about his condition, saying only: "I don't think it's important." He did not appear ill on camera.

Alban said Ecuador was "covering his medical expenses" and arranging "regular medical checkups," noting that Assange has been living "in a confined space" since seeking asylum 162 days ago to avoid extradition to Sweden on charges of rape and sexual assault.

She did not give further details on his health. A spokesman for WikiLeaks in London, Kristinn Hrafnsson,declined comment on Assange's health when contacted by AFP. WikiLeaks enraged Washington in 2010 by leaking hundreds of thousands of classified US documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and embarrassing diplomatic cables from US embassies around the world.

Assange was arrested that same year in London but eventually released on bail. He denies the allegations of rape and sexual assault and claims that if he is extradited to Sweden, he could be passed on to the United States and prosecuted, facing a long prison term or even the death sentence.     

Ecuador granted Assange asylum on August 16, but Britain has refused to grant him safe passage out of the country leaving the two governments in diplomatic deadlock and Assange stuck inside the embassy.


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