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Assange vows to fight on after 'victory' of dropped rape probe

By LENNART SIMONSSON and BILL SMITH
dpa

May 19. 2017 10:19PM
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London last year. (REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo)

LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hailed Friday's decision by Swedish prosecutors to drop a rape investigation as an “important victory,” but he vowed to fight on against his “terrible injustice.”

“While today was an important victory, the road is far from over. The proper war is just commencing,” Assange said from a balcony at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, after a clenched-fist salute to journalists and supporters.

“The inevitable inquiry into what has occurred in this moment of terrible injustice is something that I hope will be more than just about me,” he said, claiming that detention and extradition without charge had “become a feature of the EU.”

Assange said he is willing to discuss his case with British and U.S. officials.

“My legal staff have contacted the U.K. authorities, and we hope to engage in a dialogue on what is the best way forward,” he said.

He said he was “always happy to engage in a dialogue with the (U.S.) Department of Justice about what has occurred,” despite some “extremely threatening remarks” from the United States.

Assange, 45, said he had missed seeing his children grow up during his refuge. “That is not something I can forgive, or forget,” he said.

He thanked the Ecuadorian government, which had “stood by my asylum in the face of intense pressure.”

Assange, an Australian national who took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012, claimed he had been “detained for seven years without charge" during a period of house arrest and his later refuge in the embassy.

A United Nations human rights panel ruled last year that Assange had been arbitrarily detained since 2010, but the British and Swedish governments rejected the U.N. report and insisted that Assange entered and remained in the embassy voluntarily when he chose to flee a British extradition order to Sweden.

Swedish prosecutors said earlier Friday they were dropping the rape investigation into Assange and repealing the arrest warrant. However, British police still plan to detain him if he leaves his refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

The Swedish director of public prosecutions, Marianne Ny, said it was not possible to proceed with the long-running preliminary investigation into a rape allegation related to a visit Assange made to Sweden in August 2010, calling it “regrettable.”

Assange has always denied the allegations.

Ny said the decision was not a pronouncement regarding Assange's possible guilt or innocence.

Foreign Minister Guillaume Long said Ecuador welcomes the decision and wants Britain to grant safe passage to Assange.

Long said Ecuador regrets the “wholly unnecessary delay” that stretched from 2012 until Swedish prosecutors interviewed Assange in London in November.

Elisabeth Massi Fritz, a Swedish attorney representing the alleged rape victim, said it was “a scandal that a suspected rapist can avoid justice and a trial in court.”

Her client was "shocked" and “had not changed her view that Assange raped her,” the attorney said in an emailed statement to dpa.

Assange fled to the embassy after he lost a legal battle in Britain against extradition to Sweden, fearing he would be handed over to U.S. authorities due to the publication of top secret U.S. diplomatic cables.

Those cables proved hugely embarrassing to the United States, as they included critiques of allies and other sensitive information. Some of the data came from information stolen by U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning, who was only released from seven years confinement this week for her role in the case.

Assange hailed Manning's release as “an even more important victory.”

British police said officers are still “obliged to execute” an arrest warrant for Assange issued in Britain in June 2012, despite Friday's announcement in Sweden.

But the Metropolitan Police suggested that now Assange was only wanted for “a much less serious offence” of failing to surrender to a court, it would reduce its level of policing outside the embassy.

The British government declined to comment on speculation that the United States may already have requested Assange's extradition.

Asked about the case during an election campaign event, British Prime Minister Theresa May said any decision to detain Assange would be “an operational matter for the police,” adding that her government examines any extradition request “on a case-by-case basis.”

Ny said the Swedish investigation could be reopened if Assange should return to Sweden before August 2020, when the statute of limitations expires.

She said the Swedish investigation was not terminated because of costs or pressure from the US.

Three other cases of alleged sexual assault against Assange were dropped in 2014 due to a Swedish statute of limitations.


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