WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has called on President Barack Obama to end a "witch hunt" against his secret-spilling website, after appearing in public for the first time since he took refuge inside Ecuador's embassy in London two months ago.
The 41-year-old Australian was on Thursday granted asylum by Ecuador as he seeks to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sexual misconduct allegations.
"I ask President Obama to do the right thing, the United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks," Assange said Sunday, speaking from a small balcony.
He also called on the U.S. to release Pfc. 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.
Assange's appearance was his first comment since Ecuador on Thursday granted him diplomatic asylum, a move Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said was aimed at sheltering the Australian from any future attempt by the United States to prosecute the activist over his WikiLeaks work.
Britain has said it will not grant Assange safe passage out of the U.K., insisting that it must follow the law and deliver him to Sweden on a binding European arrest warrant.
While Assange remains inside Ecuador's embassy — which is protected by diplomatic privileges — he is out of reach of British authorities.
If he steps foot outside the mission, he faces immediate detention by the dozens of British police who surround the building and are stationed inside a shared lobby.
Assange shot to international prominence in 2010 when his WikiLeaks website began publishing a huge trove of American diplomatic and military secrets — including 250,000 U.S. embassy cables that highlight the sensitive, candid and often embarrassing backroom dealings of U.S. diplomats.
As he toured the globe to highlight the disclosures, two women accused him of sex offenses during a trip to Sweden.
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. over his work with WikiLeaks — something disputed by both Swedish authorities and the women involved.
Correa said on his weekly broadcast that Ecuador had offered Assange refuge specifically because of the purported threat of a prosecution in the U.S. He said Ecuador "never wanted to impede the investigation of a supposed crime. What we wanted to impede is the extradition to a third country."
A Virginia grand jury is studying evidence that might link Assange to Pfc. 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.
Tensions have risen between London and Quito over Assange, after Britain appeared to suggest it could invoke a little-known law to strip Ecuador's embassy of diplomatic privileges — meaning police would be free to move in and detain the activist.
Correa said that Britain's "direct threat" about possibly entering the embassy had come "in a totally offensive, inconsiderate, intolerable manner."
British diplomats accuse Ecuador of deliberately misinterpreting its attempts to explain its legal options. Foreign Secretary William Hague has said Britain is seeking an amicable solution to the standoff in talks with Ecuadorean officials.
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