LONDON, UK (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange urged President Barack Obama to end a so-called "witch hunt" against his secret-spilling website, appearing in public today for the first time since he took refuge two months ago inside Ecuador's Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex crimes allegations.
The 41-year-old Australian, who has fought for two years against efforts to send him to Sweden for questioning over alleged sexual misconduct against two women, addressed several hundred supporters and reporters as he spoke from the small balcony of Ecuador's mission, watched by dozens of British police.
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa on Thursday granted Assange asylum and he remains out of reach of British authorities while he is inside the country's embassy. Britain insists that if he steps outside, he will be detained and sent to Sweden, as by law it must meet the obligations of a European arrest warrant.
Praising Correa, Assange said "a courageous Latin American nation took a stand for justice," in offering him sanctuary, but did not refer to the Swedish allegations against him. Instead, he attempted to shift attention to what he claims are preparations in the US to punish him for the publication by WikiLeaks of a trove of American diplomatic and military secrets — including 250,000 US Embassy cables that highlight sometimes embarrassing backroom dealings.
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 US — something disputed by both Swedish authorities and the women involved.
"I ask President Obama to do the right thing. The United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks," Assange said, speaking from a first-floor balcony decorated with an Ecuadorean flag, standing just yards (meters) away from British police officers.
"The United States must dissolve its FBI investigation. The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters," he said, wearing a formal blue shirt and red tie.
In purportedly targeting WikLeaks, the US risks "dragging us all into a dark, repressive world in which journalists live under fear of prosecution," Assange said.
The White House declined comment, but on Saturday it said Assange's fate is an issue for Sweden, Britain and Ecuador to resolve.