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Ecuador Cuts Wikileaks Head's Web Access Over Election Meddling

Julian Assange spoke to the media in February from a balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been living since 2012.
Julian Assange spoke to the media in February from a balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been living since 2012.

Ecuador's government said it temporarily restricted Internet access for Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, because it opposed the group's meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

Wikileaks's websites have carried numerous leaks of the private e-mails of top U.S. Democratic Party officials recently -- leaks which have been traced by U.S. intelligence officials and private experts to Russian hackers and which U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has blamed on the Russian government.

Assange has lived in Ecuador's London embassy since mid-2012 to escape Western law-enforcement action. Wikileaks said that Assange lost connectivity over the weekend, shortly after it published Clinton's private speeches to Goldman Sachs.

The Ecuadoran government took responsibility for the cut-off late on October 18, saying it wanted to distance itself from Wikileaks' decision to publish documents impacting on the U.S. election, which it said was entirely Wikileaks' responsibility.

"Ecuador, exercising its sovereign right, has temporarily restricted access to part of its communications systems in its U.K. Embassy," the Ecuadoran Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"The government of Ecuador respects the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states. It does not interfere in external electoral processes, nor does it favor any particular candidate," it said.

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has publicly supported Clinton over her opponent, Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has been quick to make political capital out of the Democratic e-mails published by Wikileaks that reveal internal party struggles and highlight Clinton's vulnerabilities.

"For the good of the United States and the world...I would like Hillary to win," Correa told RT last month, adding that Clinton is someone who "I know personally and appreciate very much."

Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador's leftist regime after a British court ordered him extradited to Sweden to face questioning in a sexual molestation case involving two female supporters.

Wikileaks said it activated "contingency plans" after Assange got disconnected from the Web, and Ecuador said that its cut-off did not stop the group from continuing its "journalistic activities."

On October 18, Wikileaks' Twitter feed released another tranche of e-mails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, suggesting that the group's ability to publish had not been compromised.

Podesta has blamed the extensive leaks of his e-mails on Russia and said he was told by the FBI that the breach is part of its investigation into Russian hacking of the U.S. election. Wikileaks has not said where it got the e-mails.

Shortly after Ecuador cut Assange's web link, Wikileaks said that the United States had pressured the South American country to rein in Assange -- a charge denied by the United States as well as Ecuador, which said pointedly that it "does not cede to pressures from other countries."

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby dismissed Wikileaks' charge.

"While our concerns about Wikileaks are longstanding, any suggestion that Secretary [John] Kerry or the State Department were involved in shutting down Wikileaks is false," he said.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP
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