Assange to be freed after posting bail in Britain

The high court in London Thursday granted Assange bail, dismissing an appeal against attempts by the prosecuting authorities to stop him being freed.

The appeal was based on the contention that Assange was a "flight risk" due to his "lifestyle connections". There was confusion Thursday as to which prosecuting authority brought the appeal.

The Swedish authorities denied any involvement in the process, while Britain's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it acted as an "agent of the Swedish government".

"Who exactly brought this appeal remains opaque," said Assange's lawyer, Mark Stephens. However, he described the move as a "continued vendetta on the part of the Swedish authorities against Julian Assange".

The 39-year-old Australian will remain in Britain under strict bail conditions. The extradition case against him is due to begin early next year. "We are utterly delighted and thrilled, sharing the joy of Julian and his family," said Stephens on the steps of the High Court.

Assange's mother, Christine, who travelled from Australia for the court hearing, said she was "very, very happy" with the decision. "I can't wait to see my son and hold him close," she said. Asked what would be the first thing she would do, she replied: "Hug him."

Supporters were jubilant as news of the bail decision spread. While in Britain, Assange will live on a country estate in Suffolk, southeast England, owned by a friend and supporter.

The bail of 200,000 pounds ($312,000), which had to be provided in cash, was put up by prominent human right campaigners, authors and film directors, including US documentary maker Michael Moore and British director Ken Loach.

Two sureties of 20,000 pounds each have also been requested. The bail ruling is subject to stringent conditions. Assange will have to surrender his passport and observe a daily curfew which will be monitored by an electronic tag. Assange was detained in London after turning himself in at a police station Dec 7, on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant (EWA) issued by Sweden.

He is wanted in Sweden on allegations of sex offences against two women, which he denies, saying that the claims arise from a dispute over "consensual, but unprotected, sex". His supporters maintain that the allegations - denied by Assange - are "politically motivated" and aimed at targeting WikiLeaks for its online publications of secret US government documents.

Legal observers said, however, that fighting extradition to Sweden under a European warrant would be difficult. Assange and his lawyers would have to supply witnesses and documentary evidence to prove their contention that the Swedish request is "politically motivated".

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that federal prosecutors in the US are seeking to build a case against Assange on possible espionage charges for his role in obtaining and distributing classified information. WikiLeaks last month launched the publication of more than 250,000 top secret cables from the US state department.

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