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WikiLeaks Assange's legal options narrow

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Dec. 2, 2010, 5:38 p.m. | World — by Associated Press

Julian Assange
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LONDON (AP) — Julian Assange's legal options narrowed Thursday as the WikiLeaks founder lost an appeal against a court order for his arrest and his British lawyer said authorities knew his precise location. Sweden's Supreme Court upheld a order to detain the 39-year-old Australian for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual molestation that could lead to his extradition. The former computer hacker has been out of the public eye for nearly a month, although attorney Mark Stephens insisted that authorities knew how to find him.

"Both the British and the Swedish authorities know how to contact him, and the security services know exactly where he is," Stephens told The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, cables published to WikiLeaks' website detailed alleged financial support for North Korea and terrorist affiliates by Austrian banks; an allegation by a Pakistani official that Russia "fully supports" Iran's nuclear program; and a deeply unflattering assessment of Turkmenistan's president.

Accused in Sweden of rape, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of unlawful coercion, Assange's last public appearance was at a Geneva press conference on Nov. 5.

Swedish officials have alerted Interpol and issued a European arrest warrant in a bid to bring him back in for questioning. Stephens, Assange's lawyer, said that the Swedish prosecution was riddled with irregularities and turning into an exercise in persecution.

Assange denies the charges, and Stephens has said they apparently stemmed from a "dispute over consensual, but unprotected sex."

It is unclear if or when police would act on Sweden's demands. Police there acknowledged Thursday they would have to refile their European arrest warrant after British authorities asked for more details on the maximum penalties for all three crimes Assange is suspected of.

Scotland Yard declined comment, as did the Serious and Organized Crime Agency, responsible for processing European arrest warrants for suspects in England — where The Guardian claims Assange is hiding out.

Stephens — who also represents The Associated Press — said that, if Assange were ever served with a warrant, he would fight it in British court.

"The process in this case has been so utterly irregular that the chances of a valid arrest warrant being submitted to me are very small," he said.

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said late Wednesday the organization was trying to keep Assange's location a secret for security reasons. He noted commentators in the United States and Canada had called for Assange to be hunted down or killed.

Assange's Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, wasn't immediately available for comment.

The latest batch of leaked documents included a frank assessment from the American envoy to Stockholm about Sweden's historic policy of nonalignment — a policy which the U.S. ambassador, Michael Woods, seemed to suggest was for public consumption only.

Sweden's military and intelligence cooperation with the United States "give the lie to the official policy" of non-participation in military alliances, Woods said. He added in a separate cable that Sweden's Defense Minister Sten Tolgfors fondly remembers his time as a high school student in America and "loves the U.S."

Woods cautioned American officials not to trumpet Sweden-U.S. cooperation in the fight against terrorism too openly.

"The extent of this cooperation in not widely known within the Swedish government," he said. "Public mention of the cooperation would open up the government to domestic criticism."

Woods' comments were front page news in Sweden Thursday, while WikiLeaks dominated the British news agenda as well.

A front page story in The Guardian alleged that one of the leaked cables showed British politicians trying to keep parliament in the dark over the storage of American cluster bombs on U.K. territory — despite an international ban on the weapons signed up to by British authorities. Britain's Foreign Office denied the charge.
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