Ecuador has granted asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange two months after he took refuge in its London embassy while fighting extradition from the UK.
British government had on Wednesday threatened to storm the Ecuadorean embassy in London to arrest the former hacker.
Britain has said it is determined to extradite him to Sweden, where he is accused of rape and sexual assault, but Assange fears he will ultimately be sent to the United States which is furious that his WikiLeaks website has leaked hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic and military cables.
Ecuador\’s decision is likely to deepen a political dispute over Assange\’s extradition with Britain, which said it was "disappointed" with the ruling, and sets the stage for possible further confrontation between the two countries.
Patino said Ecuador feared for the safety of the Australian, who had lodged an asylum request with President Rafael Correa, a self-declared enemy of "corrupt" media and U.S. "imperialism".
"Ecuador has decided to grant political asylum to Julian Assange following the request sent to the President," Patino told a news conference in Quito.
Patino said Assange\’s extradition to a third country without proper guarantees was probable, and that legal evidence showed he would not get 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.
Assange has been holed up inside Ecuador\’s embassy in central London for eight weeks since he lost a legal battle to avoid extradition to Sweden.
Even after Thursday\’s decision his fate is still far from clear: Britain has promised to extradite him and the removal of the Ecuadorean embassy\’s diplomatic status would expose him to immediate arrest by the British authorities.
"We are disappointed," a Foreign Office spokesman said.
"Under UK law, with Mr Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden. We shall carry out that obligation," he added.