Outside the Ecuadoran embassy in London, the police and the demonstrators have disappeared: and for the local community, at last after seven years, the Julian Assange circus has left town.
“My God, this nightmare is over, what a relief!” said Tony Knight, a financial consultant in his 60s who lives near the embassy, a two-storey apartment just behind the swanky Harrods emporium in the plush Knightsbridge district.
“This whole area, people who live here were getting upset about what was going on, because they had police presence, demonstrations,” he told AFP.
“It wasn’t every day but it was a situation that went on and on for seven years.”
“Fortunately I live around the corner, because living right in front of the embassy must have been horrible.”
Knight, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, said it even had an effect on sale and rental prices for houses.
“Somebody told me that prices had gone down, they had to give a 30 per cent rental discount because of this,” he said, pointing to the four-storey, red-brick building which houses the embassies of Ecuador on the left and Colombia on the right, plus a dozen private apartments.
Both are reached through the main front door that WikiLeaks founder Assange was dragged out of in handcuffs on Thursday.
Up the short flight of stairs, inside, a security guard sits in a small marble-floored, dark-walled reception.
After nearly seven years, Ecuador revoked Assange’s asylum and allowed the British police inside to arrest the Australian 47-year-old for jumping bail by entering the embassy in 2012.
The United States also wants to extradite him on hacking charges.
When he was dragged out into Hans Crescent and bundled into a waiting police van, the Colombian embassy staff could not use the main entrance and had to come and go through a back door.
Apart from that, the presence of Assange in the neighbouring flat hardly bothered them at all.
“It has not really been a nuisance,” said one employee, who did not wish to be named.
“It was just like having a neighbour that you never see.”
– Dirty protest allegation –
Outside, however, traces of the numerous protests and rallies, some featuring celebrities such as the veteran British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, still remain on the other side of the street.
On the piled-up metal barricades once used by police to contain the demonstrators hangs a sign with a picture of the former computer hacker and a large white banner reading “Free Assange”.
The WikiLeaks head had been granted asylum by president Rafael Correa, but his successor, President Lenin Moreno, was less warm towards his residency in the London mission, denouncing his behaviour as provocative and disrespectful.
“This man with his faeces smeared on the walls of the embassy,” Moreno said — an allegation Assange’s lawyer denied.
A handful of news crews and reporters were waiting around Friday just in case anything further happened, for example, if a cleaning squad were to go in to muck out the tiny room that had been Assange’s den of seven years.
Staff at the Ecuadoran embassy declined to speak to the press.
Outside the Houses of Parliament, Ambassador Jaime Marchan told AFP on Thursday that Assange’s rights had been respected but his stay had been terminated due to his “continuing and repeated breakage of his obligations under the American treaties on asylum.
“This was a termination of long wait for this to be concluded in the framework of international law,” he said.
“He didn’t comply with any of his obligations and that obliged Ecuador to put into effect last October a special protocol of living together in an embassy… he continued to break that protocol.”
Right behind the television cameras still visible in Hans Crescent, a 50-year-old woman scrubbed the steps of a grand-looking private residence.
“At the beginning, there was a lot of police here every day, and that went on for some years,” said the Polish housekeeper, who did not want to give her name.
“They were keeping an eye on him, making sure he didn’t sneak out.
“But after some time there wasn’t any sense for that anymore: where was he going to go anyway? He was like in prison already.”
She looked across to the miniscule balcony where Assange occasionally went out to speak to the gathered crowds.
The housekeeper was surprised that a dwindling number of news crews were still keeping a vigil outside.
“Tomorrow it will probably be back to normal,” she said.