LONDON, Aug 19: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange urged President Barack Obama to end the US ‘witch-hunt’ against his whistle-blowing website on Sunday, speaking from Ecuador’s London embassy where he has been holed up for two months.
Mr Assange walked into the embassy in June after exhausting all legal avenues in Britain to stop being extradited to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sex crimes.
“I ask President Obama to do the right thing, the United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks,” said Mr Assange in his first public comments since being granted political asylum by Ecuador on Thursday.
Mr Assange praised the ‘courage’ shown by the Latin American nation’s President Rafael Correa in giving him asylum, a move that has angered Britain which has said it would continue to seek his extradition.
The 41-year-old Australian made his speech from the balcony of the embassy, which was ringed by police, in order to avoid leaving its grounds and being arrested.
But Mr Assange gave no indication of what his next move might be.
He claims the accusations of sex crimes in Sweden against him – made by two female WikiLeaks volunteers – are politically motivated and that he will eventually be extradited to the United States.
WikiLeaks enraged Washington by releasing video of a US attack in Iraq, as well as tens of thousands of classified US documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr Assange on Sunday also called for US soldier Bradley Manning, the alleged source of a massive trove of secret government documents leaked by WikiLeaks, to be released from a military prison.
He claimed Manning “was found by the United Nations to have endured months of tortuous detention” at the US Marine Corps jail in Quantico, Virginia.
While thanking his own supporters, Mr Assange accused police of trying to enter the embassy after he was given asylum.
“Inside this embassy after dark, I could hear teams of police swarming up into the building through its internal fire escape,” he said from the balcony situated just above a line of police officers standing in the street below.
“But I knew there would be witnesses, and that is because of you,” he told around 100 supporters gathered outside the embassy.
Britain has said it could invoke a little-used piece of legislation introduced in 1987 that allows it to revoke the diplomatic immunity of an embassy on British soil and go in to arrest Mr Assange.
The warning was seen as a threat by Ecuador which condemned it.
However, Britain now says it would prefer a negotiated solution.
With a new haircut and wearing a blue shirt and maroon tie, Mr Assange claimed Britain had ‘thrown away’ the Vienna Conventions in warning Ecuador that it could enter the building to extract him.
Despite Ecuador providing a haven for Mr Assange, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has said Britain had no choice but to seek his extradition.
Ecuador has meanwhile received powerful backing from regional allies as they warned Britain of ‘grave consequences’ if it breaches diplomatic security at the London embassy.
Foreign ministers from the Venezuela-led so-called Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America (ALBA) flew to Ecuador on Saturday to demonstrate full diplomatic support.
Ahead of Mr Assange’s appearance, his high-profile Spanish lawyer Baltasar Garzon said the former hacker was in ‘fighting spirit’.
Reading from a statement outside the embassy on Sunday, Mr Garzon said Mr Assange had instructed his lawyers “to carry out a legal action in order to protect the right of WikiLeaks, Julian himself and all those currently being investigated”.
WikiLeaks on Sunday hinted that Mr Assange would be willing to meet Swedish authorities as long as Stockholm guaranteed that it would not extradite him to the United States.
“It would be a good basis to negotiate a way to end this matter if the Swedish authorities would declare without any reservation that Julian would never be extradited from Sweden to the USA,” WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told AFP.
Mr Assange is said to be living in a small room within the embassy, which is situated in London’s upmarket neighbourhood of Knightsbridge near to the Harrods department store.
His mother on Sunday praised hugely her son’s speech.
“It was fabulous,” Christine Assange said.
“He looks so well, he sounds well, he puts many so-called leaders to shame. He’s written and read a brilliant speech... which has inspired millions,” she said according to the Australian Associated Press.—AFP