QUITO, Ecuador -- Ecuador has granted citizenship to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who sought refuge in the country's embassy in London more than five years ago to avoid arrest.
Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said Thursday that his citizenship was granted on Dec. 12 after Assange, an Australian, requested it on Sept. 16.
Assange made the request "after having lived about five and a half years under the jurisdiction of the Ecuadorian state," the minister said.
Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy since 2012, after the country gave him political asylum, to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was being investigated for sexual offenses.
While Sweden dropped the investigation last May and repealed its arrest warrant, Assange maintained that he fears arrest and extradition to the United States over the publication of secret documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by WikiLeaks.
The Ecuadorean constitution allows the country to grant Assange citizenship, Espinosa said, adding that "Ecuador must respect the human rights of people under its protection."
Ecuadorean nationality will give Assange "one more layer of protection" without changing his condition as an "internationally protected person," the minister said.
Espinosa confirmed that Ecuador had asked Britain to concede to Assange the status of an Ecuadorean diplomat, but that the request was denied.
"The UK did not grant that request, nor are we in talks with Ecuador on this matter," the British Foreign Office said in a statement.
"Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice," it said.