Assange flees to Ecuadorian embassy, seeks asylum

In a dramatic development, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has dived into the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he cannot be touched by UK authorities, and has sought asylum in that country.

"Ecuador is studying and analysing the request," foreign minister Ricardo Patino told reporters in Quito. He added that any decision would be made with "respect for norms and principles of international law".

Last week the UK Supreme Court dismissed Assange's bid to reopen an appeal against extradition to Sweden over rape and sexual assault by two former Wikileaks volunteers; charges which he denies.

The situation threatens to inflame tensions between the government of Rafael Correa, Ecuador's leftist president who dislikes Washington but is careful not to antagonise it too far, and US authorities, who accuse Assange of damaging its foreign relations with his leaks of diplomatic documents.

It is also an embarrassment for Britain, whose foreign ministry on Tuesday confirmed the 40-year-old Assange was beyond the reach of its police in the Ecuadorian embassy.

The Andean nation in 2010 invited Assange to seek residency there but quickly backed away from the idea, accusing him of breaking US laws.