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US rejects Assange’s ‘wild’ witch hunt claims

The United States on Monday denied Julian Assange's "wild assertions" that it has launched a witch-hunt for the WikiLeaks founder, who was holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London to avoid extradition.

US rejects Assange's 'wild' witch hunt claims

The Australian-born hacktivist rallied supporters Sunday from the balcony of the embassy, accusing the United States of pursuing him after his website angered Washington by publishing a trove of sensitive diplomatic cables.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the United States had nothing to do with efforts by Britain to extradite Assange, who is wanted for questioning by Sweden on allegations of rape and molestation.

“He is making all kinds of wild assertions about us when in fact his issue with the government of the United Kingdom has to do with whether he’s going to face justice in Sweden for something that has nothing to do with WikiLeaks, it has to do with charges of sexual misconduct,” Nuland told reporters.

“He is clearly trying to deflect attention away from the real issue, which is whether he’s going to face justice in Sweden,” she told reporters.

“That case has nothing to do with us. It’s a matter between the UK, Sweden and now Ecuador has inserted itself,” she said.

Nuland, in an exchange with reporters, later clarified that Assange was not charged in Sweden but was wanted for questioning. Two female WikiLeaks volunteers in Sweden have accused Assange of the sexual misconduct.

Assange says that the accusations are politically motivated and that he would eventually be extradited to the United States. He says the sex was consensual.

“I ask President (Barack) Obama to do the right thing — the United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks,” the 41-year-old Australian told some 200 supporters and hordes of journalists from the embassy balcony.

Assange has spent two months inside the embassy, which occupies a small part of a red-brick mansion block in an upscale section of London. British authorities could arrest him if he steps outside.

Nuland, in line with previous US statements, declined comment on the scope of US prosecution over WikiLeaks. A military court is trying Bradley Manning, a young soldier suspected of leaking the documents to the activist website.

Assange called for the United States to release Manning, saying he was being treated harshly in detention.

The UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Ernesto Mendez, in March said that Manning had been subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading” conditions including prolonged detention. A previous State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, resigned last year after criticizing Manning’s treatment.

WikiLeaks angered the United States by releasing tens of thousands of classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as often unflattering reports of US diplomats’ views on world leaders.

Ecuador’s left-leaning president, Rafael Correa, has offered asylum to Assange, citing the possibility of US prosecution. Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said the South American nation hoped to resolve the case through dialogue.

“Heading to the International Court of Justice in The Hague would be the path to take after that,” Patino told Ecuadoran TV network Gama.

Foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations, meeting in Ecuador’s biggest city Guayaquil, expressed “solidarity” Sunday with the decision to grant asylum.

The nations also declared support for Quito over the “threat of violation of its diplomatic mission,” a reference to Britain highlighting an obscure 1987 law under which its police could enter the embassy and extract Assange.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman said Britain was “obliged” to carry out the extradition to Sweden after Assange exhausted all appeal options.

“It is our intention to carry out that obligation,” the spokesman said.

“We will continue talking to the Ecuadoran government and others to try to find a diplomatic solution,” he said.

The spokesman did not refer directly to the speech by Assange, who credited

public support with preventing a raid on the embassy and said he heard police

“swarming up into the building through its internal fire escape” on Saturday.

A handful of protesters have camped outside of Britain’s consulate in New York, holding banners such as “Telling the truth is not reason.”

“We plan on staying until Julian Assange gets out of the embassy,” said 23-year-old activist Adam Peck.

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JULIAN ASSANGE

Assange will cooperate with Sweden, but fight US warrant: lawyer

Julian Assange would cooperate with Swedish authorities if they reopen a rape case against him but will continue to resist any bid to extradite him to the United States, his lawyer said Sunday.

Assange will cooperate with Sweden, but fight US warrant: lawyer
Julian Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson in London on Thursday. Photo: AP Photo/Matt Dunham/TT

“We are absolutely happy to answer those queries if and when they come up,” Jennifer Robinson told Sky News television about the rape claims.

“The key issue at the moment is US extradition, which we have warned about for many years,” she added.

The WikiLeaks founder is in custody in London awaiting sentencing for breaching his British bail conditions in 2012 by seeking refuge in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.

He was arrested at the embassy on Thursday after Ecuador gave him up, and is now also fighting a US extradition warrant relating to the release by WikiLeaks of a huge cache of official documents.

The Australian has always denied the claims of sexual assault and rape in Sweden. The first expired in 2015 and the other was dropped in 2017, but the alleged rape victim has now asked for the case to be reopened.

If Stockholm makes a formal extradition request, the British government will have to decide whether to consider it before or after that of the United States.

Robinson said Assange would seek assurances from Sweden that he would not be sent on to America, saying: “That is the same assurance we were seeking in 2010 and the refusal to give that is why he sought asylum.”

She added: “He's not above the law. Julian has never been concerned about facing British justice or indeed Swedish justice. This case is and has always been about his concern about being sent to face American injustice.”

The US indictment charges Assange with “conspiracy” for working with former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password stored on Department of Defence computers in March 2010.

He faces up to five years in jail.

Manning passed hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, exposing US military wrongdoing in the Iraq war and diplomatic secrets about scores of countries around the world.

The conspiracy charge against Assange seems intended to sidestep limits on prosecution potentially arising from the US Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of press freedom.

But Robinson insisted: “This indictment clearly engages newsgathering activities and the kinds of communications that journalists have with sources all the time.”

The lawyer condemned as “outrageous” claims made by Ecuador about Assange's behaviour in the embassy, including that he smeared his faeces on the wall, saying: “That's not true.”

Quito also accused him of failing to care for his cat. WikiLeaks said Assange had asked his lawyers to “rescue him (the cat) from embassy threats” in October, adding: “They will be reunited in freedom.”

Assange's father, John Shipton, on Sunday urged Australia to bring his son home.

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