WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange has taken refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, seeking asylum in a long-shot move that would see him trade the glare of an often-hostile British press for the comforts of a small Latin American nation governed by a friendly leader.
Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said the leftist government of President Rafael Correa -- an administration often at odds with Washington -- was weighing the request.
Assange's legal options in the U.K. had almost completely run out. Less than a week ago Britain's Supreme Court re-endorsed its decision to allow the 40-year-old's extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted over sex crimes allegations.
Ecuador -- where less than one in three people have access to the Web -- may seem an unlikely place for the former computer hacker to seek refuge, but in many ways it's an obvious choice.
"It's one of the few countries that has given a great opening to Assange's entire cause," said Grace Jaramillo, an international relations professor at Ecuador's FLACSO university.
"Correa sees Assange as a critic of the status quo," he said. "He has been challenging the United States and Correa likes that."
Assange argues that extradition to Sweden is a first step in efforts to remove him to the United States, where he claims to have been secretly indicted over his disclosure of 250,000 State Department cables. He has spent the better part of two years fighting the move through the British courts.
But legal experts said Assange's flight to the Ecuadorean Embassy was a desperate one.
U.K. extradition specialist Karen Todner said she couldn't make sense of the move, while Michael Scharf, based at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, said he didn't believe Assange could be given asylum status.
"I think they are going to end up asking him to leave the premises," said Scharf.