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U.K. cops: Assange faces arrest outside embassy

Police stand guard outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, London, Wednesday June 20, 2012.
AP Photo/Tim Hales

(CBS/AP) LONDON - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is beyond the grasp of British authorities as long as he is holed up in Ecuador's London embassy, the government said Wednesday. But he faces arrest if he steps outside.

Police said Assange had violated the terms of his bail, which include an overnight curfew, and "is now subject to arrest." Police officers were stationed Wednesday outside the Edwardian apartment block that houses the small South American country's London embassy.

The Foreign Office said as long as Assange remains inside, he is "beyond the reach of police."

"We will seek to work with the Ecuadorean authorities to resolve this situation as soon as possible," it said in a statement.

The 40-year-old Australian took refuge in the mission on Tuesday, saying he was seeking political asylum in Ecuador, whose leftist President Rafael Correa has previously offered words of support.

Ecuador: Wikileaks' Assange seeking asylum

Ecuador said Assange would "remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorean government" while authorities in the capital, Quito, considered his case.

But even if Ecuador grants Assange the political asylum he seeks, that status won't protect him as he leaves the embassy, British legal analyst and commentator Joshua Rozenberg told CBS News.

It's possible that Ecuador could try to grant diplomatic status to Assange, but that normally involves an agreement with the host country, which is unlikely to be given, Rozenberg added.

Assange was arrested in London in December 2010 at Sweden's request. Since then he has been fighting extradition to the Scandinavian country, where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual assaults on two women in 2010.

He denies the allegations and says the case against him is politically motivated. He also claims extradition could be a first step in efforts to remove him to the United States, where he claims to have been secretly indicted over his website's disclosure of 250,000 State Department cables. The leaks of the secret diplomatic exchanges deeply angered the U.S. government.

Asked about the case at a Geneva press conference, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said Assange was not being victimized.

"I don't think he's being persecuted because of his use of the Internet at all," she said.

Assange had all but run out of legal options in Britain, where the Supreme Court last week affirmed an earlier decision that he should be sent to Sweden.

Some legal experts said they were mystified by the reasoning behind Assange's dramatic asylum bid. But human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy, a former member of Assange's legal team, said he could be planning to bargain with Sweden for assurances that he would not be handed over to the U.S.

She said if granted such assurances, Assange might be willing to go to Sweden voluntarily.