Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Assange asks Obama to end 'witch hunt'

WikiLeaks founder reappears

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LONDON -- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange urged U.S. President Barack Obama to end a so-called "witch hunt" against his secrets-spilling website, appearing in public Sunday for the first time since he took refuge two months ago inside the Ecuador Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex-crimes allegations.

The 41-year-old Australian, who has fought for two years against efforts to send him to Sweden for questioning about alleged sexual misconduct against two women, addressed several hundred supporters and reporters as he spoke from the small balcony of Ecuador's mission, watched by dozens of British police.

Ecuador President Rafael Correa granted Assange asylum Thursday and he remains out of reach of British authorities while inside the country's embassy. Britain insists if he steps outside, he will be detained and sent to Sweden, as by law it must meet the obligations of a European arrest warrant.

Praising Correa, Assange said "a courageous Latin American nation took a stand for justice" in offering him sanctuary, but he did not refer to the Swedish allegations against him. Instead, he tried to shift attention to what he claims are preparations in the United States to punish him for the publication by WikiLeaks of a trove of American diplomatic and military secrets.

Assange and his supporters claim the Swedish case is merely the opening gambit in a Washington-orchestrated plot to make him stand trial in the U.S., a stand disputed by Swedish authorities and the women involved.

"I ask President Obama to do the right thing. The United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks," Assange said, speaking from a first-floor balcony decorated with an Ecuadorean flag, standing just metres away from British police officers.

"The United States must dissolve its FBI investigation. The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters," he said.

The White House declined comment Sunday, but on Saturday it said Assange's fate is an issue for Sweden, Britain and Ecuador to resolve. A Virginia grand jury is studying evidence that might link Assange to Pte. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who has been charged with aiding the enemy by passing the secret files to WikiLeaks and is awaiting trial. No action against Assange has yet been taken.

South America's foreign ministers were to meet in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on Sunday at the host nation's request to discuss the case. On Friday, foreign ministers of the Organization of American States are to convene in Washington to discuss the standoff.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2012 B5

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