* Correa wants Britain to withdraw 'threat' to raid embassy

* Says WikiLeaks founder can stay in building 'indefinitely'

By Eduardo Garcia

QUITO, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Ecuador is ready to negotiate over the fate of Julian Assange if Britain withdraws a threat to raid its embassy in London where the WikiLeaks founder has sought refuge, President Rafael Correa said on Tuesday.

Ecuador was incensed by a veiled British threat to enter the embassy to arrest the 41-year-old former computer hacker, who is trying to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual assault.

Correa has offered Assange asylum and told Britain to let him leave the embassy and fly to the South American country. The leftist leader said Assange, who has been in the building for nine weeks, was welcome to stay there "indefinitely," but also said he was open to discussions.

"Despite that rude, impertinent and unacceptable remark we're still open to dialogue," Correa told reporters in the coastal city of Guayaquil.

"We don't expect an apology, but of course we expect Britain to retract the extremely serious mistake they made when they issued the threat that they could violate our diplomatic mission to arrest Mr. Julian Assange."


Foreign ministers from across Latin America broadly backed Quito's position as the government rallied regional support at a series of high-level meetings in Ecuador over the weekend.

Correa says he shared Assange's fears that from Sweden he could be further extradited to the United States and face charges there. His WikiLeaks website published a barrage of secret army documents and diplomatic cables in 2010 that exposed Washington's power-broking around the world.

Correa has portrayed the saga as a struggle between a small country and "imperialist" powers, the United States and Britain.

Local analysts say that playing up the "colonial" angle helps burnish Correa's anti-U.S. credentials and could lift his ratings. It also plays well with his ally Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez, the biggest critic of Washington in the region.

Correa, a 49-year-old economist, has become popular with many Ecuadoreans by building hospitals and schools, and for programs of cash handouts for the poor. He is well placed to win re-election next year if -- as widely expected -- he runs.


MICROWAVE AND A TREADMILL

Ecuador has said it might take the dispute over Assange to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

But it wants to convince London that it should let the Australian citizen travel to Ecuador, or give him written guarantees that he would not be extradited to the United States. Correa's government says there have been no talks since Aug. 15.

Assange, whose platinum hair and friendships with the rich and famous have helped make him a global celebrity, spoke from the balcony of the embassy on Sunday. He denounced what he called a U.S. "witch hunt" targeting him, but did not mention the accusations made against him by two women.

That omission infuriated many in Sweden, who say the sex crime allegations by two WikiLeaks supporters in 2010 have played second fiddle to unwarranted theories of a U.S.-led conspiracy to extradite Assange with the help of allies in Europe.

Correa said Ecuador never intended to stop Assange from facing justice in Sweden. "What we've asked for is guarantees that he won't be extradited to a third country," he said.

The Ecuadorean leader also said his nation had to improvise to provide Assange with as many home comforts as possible at the diplomatic mission in London's affluent Knightsbridge area, including a bed, microwave, shower and treadmill for jogging.

"Since Mr. Assange has received asylum from the Ecuadorean state, he can stay in the embassy indefinitely," Correa said.

Since taking office in 2007, Correa has often sparred with journalists whom he accuses of trying to undermine his rule. Critics in the media accuse him of muzzling them and behaving like an autocrat.

Earlier this year he won a libel case against three newspaper publishers and a columnist for an article that called him a dictator and alleged he had ordered troops to fire on civilians during a protest. He later pardoned them.

"I wonder what would England do if a journalist, with the permission and complicity of a newspaper, accused the Queen of a genocide?," Correa said when asked about accusations that he has used the courts to silence media critics.

He added that in his domestic disputes with journalists he had only ever been standing up to unscrupulous media bosses.

"We face up to (the likes of) Murdoch in the United Kingdom, who thought that they were above the law until a government came along to implement the law for all," Correa said, referring to the Australian-born media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch's British newspaper arm is under investigation for illegally tapping the voicemails of celebrities, sports stars and politicians. There have been more than 60 arrests, including dozens of current and former journalists.

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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)

  • A picture shows a portrait of Wikileaks

    A picture shows a portrait of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is taped to a Union Flag 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)

  • Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's lawye

    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)

  • Supreme Court Rules On Extradition Of Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange

    LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 30: Supporters of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange demonstrate outside the UK Supreme Court following Mr Assange's extradition appeal on May 30, 2012 in London, England. The Supreme Court's president Lord Phillips explained that the judgement against Mr Assange's appeal against his extradition to Sweden to face accusations of sex offences, was reached by a majority of five to two, meaning that Assange can be extradited. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange attends

    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange attends a press conference in central London on February 27, 2012. Whistleblowing website WikiLeaks on February 27 began publishing more than five million confidential emails from US-based intelligence firm Stratfor, the anti-secrecy group said. AFP PHOTO / CARL COURT (Photo credit should read CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • (FILES) In a file photo taken on Februar

    (FILES) In a file photo taken on February 27, 2012, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange talks during a press conference in central London. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is planning to run for election to the Australian Senate, the organisation announced on March 17, 2012 on Twitter. AFP PHOTO / CARL COURT / FILES (Photo credit should read CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Julian Assange Takes His Extradition Case To The Supreme Court

    LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Julian Assange (C), the founder of the WikiLeaks whistle-blowing website and his supporters leave 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)

  • Julian Assange Takes His Extradition Case To The Supreme Court

    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)

  • Wikileaks founder Julian Assange arrives

    Wikileaks founder Julian Assange arrives for the second day of a two day hearing at the Supreme Court in central London, on February 2, 2012. Assange took his extradition fight to Britain's Supreme Court on Wednesday, arguing that sending him to Sweden to face rape allegations would breach legal principles dating back 1,500 years. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINA (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

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

    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)

  • Wikileaks founder Julian Assange (C) lea

    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)

  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (C) arr

    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)

  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (L) spe

    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)

  • Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange Arrives At Court Seeking To Refer His Case To The Supreme Court

    LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05: Julian Assange, the founder of the whistle-blowing 'WikiLeaks,' leaves the High Court after winning the right to petition the UK Supreme Court to review his extradition to Sweden on December 5, 2011 in London, England. Last month Mr Assange lost a High Court challenge to his extradition to Sweden where he is due to face charges of sex offences. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • 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)