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Ecuador says it has restricted the internet access of Julian Assange, the anti-secrecy campaigner holed up in its London embassy, due to concerns the WikiLeaks founder might seek to influence the US election.
A statement from the Ecuadorean foreign ministry said the unplugging of the Mr Assange was a “sovereign decision”, adding: “The government of Ecuador respects the principles of non-intervention in the affairs of other nations, does not meddle in electoral campaigns nor support any candidate in particular.”
This was a reference to the release by WikiLeaks of three transcripts of paid speeches Hillary Clinton made to the US bank, which are likely to fuel concerns the Democratic candidate and favourite to win the US presidential race is too cosy with Wall Street.
WikiLeaks had earlier blamed an unnamed “state party”, tweeting on Monday: “Julian Assange’s internet link has been intentionally severed by a state party. We have activated the appropriate contingency plans.”
This month the Obama administration officially accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the elections, including by hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee and other political organisations. The stolen material has appeared on websites such as DC Leaks and WikiLeaks, and included the private emails of former secretary of state Colin Powell and aides to Mrs Clinton.
WikiLeaks had recently been releasing material from the Clinton campaign, including those from a hack of emails of her campaign chairman John Podesta.
Mr Assange, who took refuge in London’s Ecuadorean embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, accused the US of asking Ecuador to stop it publishing documents about Mrs Clinton.
The US state department said the allegation was “simply untrue”.
Ecuador’s foreign minister Guillaume Long, made no reference to the allegations, but said “the circumstances that led to the granting of asylum (to Mr Assange) remain”.
Relations between the US and Ecuador have been strained in recent years as President Rafael Correa emerged as an outspoken US critic, accusing Washington of trying to undermine his government.
In its statement late on Tuesday, Ecuador said it had temporarily restricted access to part of its communication system in its UK embassy, but said the decision to suspend Mr Assange’s web access would not “impede” the organisation’s “journalistic activities”.
However, the move is seen as a reflection of Quito’s concern not to alienate the Clinton camp ahead of the election, with the Democratic candidate currently favourite to emerge as the new US president.