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London cops end 24/7 watch of Julian Assange hideout, though he’ll likely stay put

Having already spent an estimated £12 million ($18.4 million) on a 24/7 monitoring operation outside London’s Ecuadorean Embassy where Julian Assange has been holed up since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, London police said Monday it can no longer justify committing resources to the round-the-clock operation and has therefore removed the officers.

That’s right, if Assange peers out from behind the curtain of his small room inside the embassy today, he’ll notice that the cops who for the last three years have been waiting outside to arrest him are no longer there.

The embassy offers him legal protection against extradition to Sweden where prosecutors are keen to interview him regarding sexual assault allegations.

The WikiLeaks founder has always protested his innocence, and believes extradition to Sweden would ultimately lead to extradition to the U.S. where he could face charges in connection with the publication of classified government documents. Assange believes that if that happens, the chances of a fair hearing would be slim.

Watching and waiting….and waiting

Diplomatic protocol keeps the U.K. authorities from entering the embassy to arrest Assange, so cops have been keeping constant watch outside, ready to nab him if he tries to leave.

Despite ending the police presence, London’s Metropolitan Police (MPS) made it clear this week that it still intends to apprehend the 44-year-old Australian should he step outside the embassy at any point.

“The operation to arrest Julian Assange does however continue and should he leave the embassy the MPS will make every effort to arrest him,” the police confirmed.

Related: White House’s response to petition for Edward Snowden’s pardon: “No”

With cops no longer positioned outside the embassy, Assange may be tempted to make a run for it, possibly via one of several elaborate plans revealed in secret papers leaked last month. These include Ecuador securing Assange diplomatic immunity by making him the country’s representative to the UN; leaving the building disguised in a costume of some sort; or escaping “across the rooftops towards a nearby helipad.” It was also suggested he could “get lost among the people in Harrods,” which is located just across the street.

However, Assange will have noted that the authorities are still very keen to take him into custody, with the MPS saying it’s now deploying “a number of overt and covert tactics” in a bid to achieve its goal.

With that in mind, and with no sign of an imminent diplomatic or legal resolution to the affair, it seems Assange could remain cooped up inside the Ecuadorean Embassy for some time to come.