LONDON — WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange has made a run for the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, seeking asylum in a long shot move that, if successful, would place him in a small, friendly South American country rather than in Sweden facing questioning about alleged sex crimes.

Tuesday's unexpected caper has added a new and bizarre twist to Assange's increasingly desperate bid to avoid extradition to Scandinavia. Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said the leftist government of President Rafael Correa – an administration often at odds with Washington – was weighing the request, although he did not indicate when a decision might be made.

Assange said in a brief statement that he was grateful "to the Ecuadorean ambassador and the government of Ecuador for considering my application."

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. The accusations – which stem from Assange's trip to the country in mid-2010 – have cast a cloud over his online organization's spectacular leaks of U.S. military, diplomatic, and intelligence material.

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, Ohio, 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.

Ecuador's mission in London said in a statement that Assange would "remain at the embassy, under the protection of the Ecuadorean government," while his application was considered. Britain's foreign ministry said it was working with Ecuadorean authorities to resolve the situation, but gave few other details.

Aside from Assange's brief statement, WikiLeaks did not elaborate on its leader's plans. Nearly a dozen calls, texts and emails seeking further comment from WikiLeaks and its staff weren't returned.

Patino, speaking at a news conference in Quito, the Ecuadorean capital, gave the fullest account of Assange's reasoning, saying he had personally written to Correa to ask for asylum.

Assange, who is Australian, had argued that "the authorities in his country will not defend his minimum guarantees before any government or ignore the obligation to protect a politically persecuted citizen." Patino said. That may be a reference to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who last month said that her country could not protect Assange from other countries' justice systems.

Ecuador has made friendly noises about Assange in the past. In the November 2010, at the height of the media storm over WikiLeaks' disclosures, its government appeared to offer him sanctuary, and on Assange's newly-launched television talk show – which interviewed Correa via videolink earlier this year – the pair swapped jokes and messages of encouragement.

It was during the interview that Assange received an offer of asylum, according to a woman who was present during the shows and familiar with the offer. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media.

It was not immediately clear if the offer came directly from the president himself, although at one point Correa saluted WikiLeaks and told Assange to take courage.

"Welcome to the club of those who are persecuted!" said Correa, whose government has been assailed by human rights and press freedom activists for using Ecuador's criminal libel law in sympathetic courts against journalists from the country's biggest newspaper, El Universo.

Assange and his allies had been in discussions over a possible attempt to seek sanctuary in Ecuador since last weekend, according to a person familiar with the matter.

"His concern was that once he arrived in Sweden he would be held in custody and would not have a chance to seek sanctuary again," the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

The person claimed that Assange had explained his reasons for seeking sanctuary to those who put up bail, but Jemima Khan, a celebrity journalist who supports Assange, said she was caught off guard by the news.

"I had expected him to face the allegations," she said in a message posted to Twitter. "I am as surprised as anyone by this."

It wasn't immediately clear whether the escape to the Ecuadorean Embassy would invalidate Assange's strict bail conditions, or whether the 200,000 pounds (roughly $315,000) put up by his supporters would be forfeited.

British officials declined to say whether Assange had skipped bail or whether they were now seeking his arrest.

Assange will be free from U.K. authorities so long as he remains at the Ecuadorean Embassy, but it's unclear how he could hope to get from the mission, based in London's wealthy Knightsbridge neighborhood, to Ecuador itself.

The embassy's buzzer rang unanswered Tuesday, although several times an unidentified figure peeked out from behind the curtain to look at reporters clustered around the building's entrance.

At one point two men emerged from the building; neither addressed the assembled media, but one bore a folio entitled "Diplomatic Law."

Claes Borgstrom, the lawyer representing the two Swedish women with claims against Assange, told Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter late Tuesday that Assange's latest move was a delaying tactic.

"It's tragic for the two clients that I represent," he was quoted as saying. "I can't imagine that this will lead anywhere."

___

Solano reported from Quito, Ecuador. Associated Press writers Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, Paisley Dodds in London, and Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm, Sweden, contributed to this report.

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  • A masked supporter of Julian Assange outside the Embassy of Ecuador in Knightsbridge, central London, as the diplomatic row between the UK and Ecuador over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deepened after the Foreign Office said the Government would seek to extradite him even if he is granted political asylum by the South American nation. The Ecuadorian authorities have accused the Government of threatening to enter its embassy in London to seize Mr Assange, who faces sexual assault charges in Sweden. Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

  • Masked supporters of Julian Assange outside the Embassy of Ecuador in Knightsbridge, central London, as the diplomatic row between the UK and Ecuador over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deepened after the Foreign Office said the Government would seek to extradite him even if he is granted political asylum by the South American nation. The Ecuadorian authorities have accused the Government of threatening to enter its embassy in London to seize Mr Assange, who faces sexual assault charges in Sweden. See PA story LEGAL Assange. Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

  • A masked supporter of Julian Assange outside the Embassy of Ecuador in Knightsbridge, central London, as the diplomatic row between the UK and Ecuador over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deepened after the Foreign Office said the Government would seek to extradite him even if he is granted political asylum by the South American nation. The Ecuadorian authorities have accused the Government of threatening to enter its embassy in London to seize Mr Assange, who faces sexual assault charges in Sweden. Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

  • Police Officers outside the Ecudorian Embassy in central London, after the British Government has told the Ecuadorian authorities that it believes it can enter its embassy and arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is seeking political asylum. The dramatic development came two months after Assange suddenly walked into the embassy in a bid to avoid being extradited to Sweden where he faces allegations of sexual assault. Photo credit: Yui Mok/PA

  • Police Officers outside the Ecudorian Embassy in central London, after the British Government has told the Ecuadorian authorities that it believes it can enter its embassy and arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is seeking political asylum. The dramatic development came two months after Assange suddenly walked into the embassy in a bid to avoid being extradited to Sweden where he faces allegations of sexual assault. Photo credit: Yui Mok/PA

  • File photo dated 27/2/2012 of Julian Assange. The UK Government has told the Ecuadorian authorities it believes it can enter its embassy in London and arrest the WikiLeaks founder, who is seeking political asylum in the South American country, sources said. Photo credit: Lewis Whyld/PA

  • A masked supporter of Julian Assange outside the Embassy of Ecuador in Knightsbridge, central London, as the diplomatic row between the UK and Ecuador over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deepened after the Foreign Office said the Government would seek to extradite him even if he is granted political asylum by the South American nation. The Ecuadorian authorities have accused the Government of threatening to enter its embassy in London to seize Mr Assange, who faces sexual assault charges in Sweden. Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

  • Police officers outside the Embassy of Ecuador in Knightsbridge, central London, as the diplomatic row between the UK and Ecuador over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deepened after the Foreign Office said the Government would seek to extradite him even if he is granted political asylum by the South American nation. The Ecuadorian authorities have accused the Government of threatening to enter its embassy in London to seize Mr Assange, who faces sexual assault charges in Sweden. Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

  • Police officers outside the Embassy of Ecuador in Knightsbridge, central London, as the diplomatic row between the UK and Ecuador over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deepened after the Foreign Office said the Government would seek to extradite him even if he is granted political asylum by the South American nation. The Ecuadorian authorities have accused the Government of threatening to enter its embassy in London to seize Mr Assange, who faces sexual assault charges in Sweden. Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

  • Members of the media gather outside the Embassy of Ecuador in Knightsbridge, central London, as the diplomatic row between the UK and Ecuador over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deepened after the Foreign Office said the Government would seek to extradite him even if he is granted political asylum by the South American nation. The Ecuadorian authorities have accused the Government of threatening to enter its embassy in London to seize Mr Assange, who faces sexual assault charges in Sweden. Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

  • Masked supporters of Julian Assange outside the Embassy of Ecuador in Knightsbridge, central London, as the diplomatic row between the UK and Ecuador over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deepened after the Foreign Office said the Government would seek to extradite him even if he is granted political asylum by the South American nation. The Ecuadorian authorities have accused the Government of threatening to enter its embassy in London to seize Mr Assange, who faces sexual assault charges in Sweden. Photo credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

  • A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian

    A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange stands with placards outside the Supreme Court in central London on May 30, 2012 ahead of the verdict on Assange's bid to avoid extradition to Sweden. Britain's Supreme Court ruled that Assange can be extradited to Sweden over alleged sex crimes, as it rejected his appeal. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Supporters of Wikileaks founder Julian A

    Supporters of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange stand with their placards and banners outside the Supreme Court in central London on May 30, 2012 ahead of the verdict on Assange's bid to avoid extradition to Sweden. Britain's Supreme Court ruled that Assange can be extradited to Sweden over alleged sex crimes, as it rejected his appeal. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/GettyImages)

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    Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's lawyer Gareth Peirce (C) speaks to members of the press outside the Supreme Court in central London on May 30, 2012 following the announcement that Assange had lost his legal bid to avoid extradition to Sweden. Britain's Supreme Court ruled that Assange can be extradited to Sweden over alleged sex crimes, as it rejected his appeal. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/GettyImages)

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  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange attends

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Julian Assange (C), the founder of the WikiLeaks whistle-blowing website, leaves the Supreme Court on February 02, 2012 in London, England. Mr Assange is appearing in court for his final UK appeal against his extradition to Sweden, where he is sought for questioning over alleged sex crimes. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01: Julian Assange (2nd R), the founder of the WikiLeaks whistle-bowing website, leaves the Supreme Court on February 01, 2012 in London, England. Mr Assange is appearing in court for his final appeal against his extradition to Sweden, where he is sought for questioning over alleged sex crimes. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

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    Wikileaks founder Julian Assange (C) leaves the Supreme Court in central London on February 1, 2012 on the first day of his appeal against extradition. Assange took his fight against extradition to Britain's Supreme Court On February 1, arguing that sending him to Sweden over rape allegations would breach legal principles dating back 1,500 years. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

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    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (C) arrives at the High Court in London on December 5, 2011 to attend a ruling in his long-running fight against extradition to Sweden. Assange was on December 5 granted permission to apply to England's highest court in a final attempt to block his extradition to Sweden over rape allegations. AFP PHOTO / GEOFF CADDICK (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)

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    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (L) speaks to the media after leaving the High Court in London on December 5, 2011 where he attended a ruling in his long-running fight against extradition to Sweden. Assange was on December 5 granted permission to apply to England's highest court in a final attempt to block his extradition to Sweden over rape allegations. AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (R) lea

    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (R) leaves the High Court in London on December 5, 2011 where he attended a ruling in his long-running fight against extradition to Sweden. Assange was on December 5 granted permission to apply to England's highest court in a final attempt to block his extradition to Sweden over rape allegations. AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

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  • Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks

    Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks at a press conference at City University London in central London on December 1, 2011. Along with a number of other guest speakers, Assange spoke of the whistle-blowing site's ongoing investigation of surveillance software companies and their alleged use by governments around the world. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • (FILES) A file photo taken on November 2

    (FILES) A file photo taken on November 2, 2011, shows WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arriving at London's High Court. Assange has vowed on March 27, 2012, to be a 'libertarian' and campaign for more openness in government if he is successful in gaining a seat in the Australian Senate. Assange, who is on bail awaiting a British court decision on his appeal against extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations, announced his plan to run for the upper house of parliament earlier this month. AFP PHOTO / FILES / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange Has His Extradition Case Heard At The Supreme Court

    LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01: Julian Assange (R), the founder of the WikiLeaks whistle-bowing website, embraces Vaughan Smith, the founder of the Frontline Club who has personally stood surety for Mr Assange, as he arrives at the Supreme Court on February 1, 2012 in London, England. Mr Assange is appearing in court for his final appeal against his extradition to Sweden, where he is sought for questioning over alleged sex crimes. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • Wikileaks founder Julian Assange stands

    Wikileaks founder Julian Assange stands in front of a selection of inverted banking company logos as he speaks to journalists during a press conference at the Frontline Club in central London, England on October 24, 2011. Assange was announcing that due to financial blocks introduced by Bank of America, Visa, Mastercard, Paypal and Western Union, Wikileaks has lost 95% of it's revenue. With funds running low, the organisation has decided to suspend it's publishing operations to begin a period of fundraising and legal fighting to remove the blocks to donation channels. AFP PHOTO/ LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • John Pilger

    John Pilger, an Australian journalist, broadcaster and documentary maker, talks to members of the media after meeting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, at the Ecuadorian Embassy, in London, Friday, June 22, 2012. Assange entered the embassy on Monday in an attempt to gain political asylum to prevent him from being extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sex crimes, which he denies. In a telephone interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) from inside the embassy, the 40-year-old Australian said he did not know when the decision would be made. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • Press photographers take photographs of supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as they sit outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, in London, Friday, June 22, 2012. Assange entered the embassy on Monday in an attempt to gain political asylum to prevent him from being extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sex crimes, which he denies. In a telephone interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) from inside the embassy, the 40-year-old Australian said he did not know when the decision would be made. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • A supporter of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sits outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, in London, Friday, June 22, 2012. Assange entered the embassy on Monday in an attempt to gain political asylum to prevent him from being extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sex crimes, which he denies. In a telephone interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) from inside the embassy, the 40-year-old Australian said he did not know when the decision would be made. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sit outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, in London, Friday, June 22, 2012. Assange entered the embassy on Monday in an attempt to gain political asylum to prevent him from being extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sex crimes, which he denies. In a telephone interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) from inside the embassy, the 40-year-old Australian said he did not know when the decision would be made. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • A British police officer stands guard outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, in London, Friday, June 22, 2012. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange entered the embassy on Monday in an attempt to gain political asylum to prevent him from being extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sex crimes, which he denies. In a telephone interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) from inside the embassy, the 40-year-old Australian said he did not know when the decision would be made about his plea for asylum. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • Members of the media gather across the street from the Ecuadorian Embassy, in London, Friday, June 22, 2012. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange entered the embassy on Monday in an attempt to gain political asylum to prevent him from being extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sex crimes, which he denies. In a telephone interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) from inside the embassy, the 40-year-old Australian said he did not know when the decision about his plea for asylum would be made. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • A British police officer stands guard outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, in London, Friday, June 22, 2012. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange entered the embassy on Monday in an attempt to gain political asylum to prevent him from being extradited to Sweden to face allegations of sex crimes, which he denies. In a telephone interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) from inside the embassy, the 40-year-old Australian said he did not know when the decision about his plea for asylum would be made. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • Ecuador's President Rafael Correa gestures during a press conference in Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, June 21, 2012. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange acknowledged Thursday that he doesn't know whether Ecuador will approve his unusual plea for political asylum, as he spent a third night inside the country's London embassy. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

  • Demonstrators protest outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, London, Thursday June 21, 2012. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange entered the embassy on Tuesday in an attempt to gain political asylum. (AP Photo/Tim Hales)

  • Sarah Saunders

    Sarah Saunders leaves after talking to media outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, London, Thursday June 21, 2012. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange entered the embassy on Tuesday in an attempt to gain political asylum. Sarah Saunders contributed money towards the bail of Julian Assange. (AP Photo/Tim Hales)