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Defiant Julian Assange asks US to end its 'witch-hunt'

Sunday, 19 August 2012 - 7:03pm IST Updated: Sunday, 19 August 2012 - 9:07pm IST | Place: London | Agency: PTI

Defying British diplomatic hints to arrest him, the WikiLeaks founder emerged in public for the first time in two months since he took refuge in the Ecuador embassy in London.
  • Reuters

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Sunday asked US President Barck Obama to end the "witch-hunt" against his whistleblower website as he emerged in public for the first time in two months since he took refuge in the Ecuador embassy in London to escape extradition to Sweden on alleged sex offences.

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

"The US war on whistleblowers must end. There must be no more foolish talk about prosecuting any media organisation, be it Wikileaks or the New York Times," the 41-year-old hacker- turned activist said.

Citing examples of alleged action in various countries against freedom of expression, Assange drew loud applause from over 200 supporters as he said: "There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response".

Clad in a crisp blue shirt and red tie, Assange 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.

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.

Assange 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."

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

White House spokesperson Josh Earnest yesterday said the Obama administration considers Assange a matter for the governments of Britain, Sweden and Ecuador to resolve.

Assange also asked the US to release Bradley Manning, charged with leaking classified information to WikiLeaks. "If Bradley Manning really did as he is accused, he is a hero, an example to us all, and one of the world's foremost political prisoners," he said.

Assange angered the US in 2010 when his WikiLeaks website began publishing a huge trove of American diplomatic and military secrets, including 250,000 US embassy documents that highlight the sensitive, candid and often embarrassing backroom dealings of American diplomats.

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.

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