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Assange asks US to end its ‘witch-hunt’

PTI
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Defying British diplomatic hints to arrest him, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange today emerged in public for the first time in two months since he took refuge in the Ecuador embassy here and asked US President Barck Obama to end the “witch-hunt” against his whistle-blower web site.

Clad in a crisp blue shirt and red tie, Assange, 41, appeared in the balcony of the embassy’s ground floor flat with nearly 100 police officers and a police helicopter above closely watching every movement.

Technically, he remained within Ecuador territory, which prevented police officers from arresting him.

Citing examples of alleged action in various countries against freedom of expression, Assange drew loud applause as he said: “There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response“.

“I ask President Obama to do the right thing, the United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks,” he said.

He added: “The US war on whistle-blowers must end. There must be no more foolish talk about prosecuting any media organisation, be it Wikileaks or the New York Times.”

Assange, an Australian national, began by thanking the people and government of Ecuador, and those in the government in the US and UK who “are still fighting for justice“.

He has been granted diplomatic asylum by Ecuador while Britain insists it is committed to extradite him to Sweden to face allegations of sex offences, and will not give him safe passage.

Assange stood beside Ecuador’s flag as several of his supporters and journalists from across the globe assembled outside the embassy, including the left-wing writer Tariq Ali.

He was greeted by supporters at almost every sentence.

He told his supporters, many of whom had been camping overnight for days outside the embassy: “I am here today because I cannot be there with you today. But thank you for your resolve, for your generosity of spirit.

“On Wednesday night after a threat was made on this embassy and police descended on this embassy, you came out to watch over it.”

Assange said that he could hear police “storming” up through the internal fire escapes of the embassy.

He added: “If the UK did not throw away the terms of the Vienna convention it was because the world was watching and the world was watching because you were watching.”

Assange, who went into the embassy on June 19, today completed two months amidst a growing diplomatic impasse between Britain and Ecuador over his extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual offences.

Assange also asked the US to release Bradley Manning, charged with leaking classified information to WikiLeaks.

He thanked Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa for the “courage he has shown,” in granting him asylum.

Earlier, sources close to Assange said that an assurance by Sweden that he would not be extradited to the United States could be a way out of the current impasse over his extradition.

Assange faces allegations of sexual offences in Sweden, where Britain is committed to extradite him after all legal avenues in this country were exhausted.

Kristinn Hrafnsson, the only person other than Assange who is authorised by WikiLeaks to be a first point of contact for receiving sensitive information, is quoted in the Sunday Times as saying: “If the Swedish authorities give an assurance there won’t be an extradition and the UK authorities as well, that might go a long way in being a basis of negotiations“.

Britain has refused safe passage to Assange after Ecuador last week granted him ‘diplomatic asylum’, which is not recognised by Britain.

(This article was published on August 19, 2012)
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