US grants asylum to Ecuador opposition reporter

The United States has granted asylum to an Ecuadoran journalist critical of President Rafael Correa in what could be a subtle swipe at Quito over its sheltering of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Emilio Palacio, who was found guilty of insulting the president, told AFP by phone from Miami that he had been granted asylum on August 17, the day after Ecuador extended asylum to Assange, currently holed up in its London embassy.

"I am very grateful to the US government for the support it has given me, not only for me and my family... but for what it means for Ecuadoran journalists," he said Thursday.

Ecuador granted Assange asylum after he took shelter in the London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sex crime allegations.

Assange -- who has portrayed his disclosure of a trove of leaked US documents as the act of a whistleblower intending to reveal official misdeeds -- says he fears he will be handed over to the United States for prosecution.

The controversy has cast a spotlight on Ecuador's own press freedom record, which has been heavily criticized by rights and media freedom groups.

Palacio was sentenced to three years in prison over a column he wrote in the El Universo newspaper in which he said Correa may have been guilty of "crimes against humanity" over his response to a police mutiny in September 2010.

Palacio, the newspaper's former opinion page editor, and two members of the newspaper's top management fled to the United States in August 2011 after Correa filed a libel suit against them.

Correa won the suit, with the court fining El Universo $40 million for "defamatory libel." However, Correa later pardoned Palacio and three other top executives who had been found guilty.

A spokesman for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services declined to comment on the case, as often happens with asylum claims.

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