QUITO (Dispatches) -- Ecuador said Thursday it had granted citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in an attempt to provide him with diplomatic immunity and usher him out of its London embassy without the threat of arrest by Britain.
Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said the 46-year-old Australian, who has been holed up at the embassy for five years to avoid arrest, became an Ecuadoran citizen on Dec 12.
She told a press conference in Quito that Ecuador had asked London to recognize Assange as a diplomat – which would give him safe passage out of the embassy without fear of arrest – but Britain had refused.
"The Ecuadoran government is empowered to grant nationality to the protected person and thus facilitate ... his inclusion in the host state," Espinosa told reporters.
She said the request to Britain to accept diplomatic status for Assange was made on Dec 20, and denied a day later.
The foreign minister said Quito would not press the issue because of the "good relations we have with the United Kingdom".
The British foreign ministry said in a statement that Ecuador had "recently requested diplomatic status for Mr Assange here in the UK. The UK did not grant that request, nor are we in talks with Ecuador on this matter."
"Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice," the British government added.
Ecuador's attempt to obtain diplomatic status for Assange comes as part of the country's broader efforts to resolve the case of their long-term lodger, who moved into the embassy in 2012 to avoid arrest over a Swedish probe into rape allegations.
Sweden dropped their investigation over the 2010 allegations last year, but British police have said they are still seeking to arrest him for failing to surrender to a court after violating bail terms.
Assange has refused to step outside the embassy and claimed he fears being extradited to the United States over WikiLeaks' publication of secret U.S. military documents and diplomatic cables in 2010.
Espinosa told the press conference that Quito would continue "to explore other ways of solving" Assange's situation.