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Ecuador backs off offer to WikiLeaks' Assange
Tue, Nov 30 20:40 PM EST

By Hugh Bronstein

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador on Tuesday backed off the idea of inviting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to visit the country as President Rafael Correa accused the whistleblower website of breaking the law by releasing U.S. documents.

WikiLeaks has caused an international uproar by handing sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables over to the media.

Assange, the 39-year-old Australian at the center of the scandal, was officially invited on Tuesday to work and seek residency in Ecuador, the Foreign Ministry said.

But Correa, a socialist first elected in 2006 on promises of battling what he calls the corrupt elite, quickly canceled the invitation, saying WikiLeaks "has committed an error by breaking the laws of the United States and leaking this type of information."

Correa did not explicitly discuss the Foreign Ministry statement but said "no official offer was made."

The South American country is part of a leftist bloc of governments in South America, including Venezuela and Bolivia, that have been highly critical of U.S. policy in the region.

More than 250,000 State Department cables were obtained by WikiLeaks and given to media groups, which began publishing stories on Sunday exposing the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy, including candid assessments of world leaders.

Correa ordered his intelligence services to investigate any implications the leaked cables might have for Ecuador.

WikiLeaks previously released U.S. documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The recent batch of leaked cables show U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton questioned the mental health of Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez, asking diplomats to find out if she was under medication.

MIXED MESSAGES

"The government ... invites Julian Assange to show information related to Latin American countries," the Foreign Ministry statement said. "The objective would be to see this information first hand."

"Assange could do investigative work and train researchers in Ecuador," it said.

Assange's whereabouts are not known and he is believed to move from country to country. He had been seeking residency in Sweden but is now wanted there on sexual abuse charges that the former hacker says are part of a conspiracy against him.

The mixed messages started late on Monday when Ecuadorean Deputy Foreign Minister Kintto Lucas told local media the government was attempting to get in touch with Assange.

"We are inviting him to give conferences and, if he wants, we have offered him Ecuadorean residency," he said.

Correa said Lucas was speaking on his own behalf and that the offer of residency was not issued by the government.

(Additional reporting by Maria Eugenia Tello; Editing by John O'Callaghan)


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