Assange to be extradited to Sweden to face charges: UK court

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H S Rao and Prasun SonwalkarLondon, Feb 24 (PTI) WikiLeaks founder Julian Assangeshould be extradited to Sweden to face charges of sexualassault, a British court ruled today, rejecting arguments thathe would face an unfair trial there.

Delivering verdict in a packed Belmarsh''s Magistratescourt, Judge Howard Riddle said: "I must order that Mr Assangebe extradited to Sweden.""Swedish prosecutors'' request that Assange be handedover was valid and reasonable for their investigation intoallegations that he sexually abused two women last August,"the judge said as 39-year-old Assange, wearing a dark suit andtie, sat stony-faced in the dock.

Assange, who denies the charges, will appeal againstthe ruling, delivered following a hearing two weeks ago.

His supporters stood outside the courthouse, wavingsigns proclaiming his innocence.

Assange has been in the international spotlight formonths, since his whistle-blowing website released thousandsof US government documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraqand on American diplomatic communications around the world.

He maintains that the sex-crimes allegations againsthim are part of a politically motivated smear campaign.

His lawyers also contend that extraditing him toSweden would merely be a prelude to sending him to the US,where government prosecutors are investigating thepossibility of espionage charges.

The accusations against him stem from separateencounters with two women in Stockholm last summer.

They alleged that he refused to wear a condom duringsex despite their requests; one of the women also said hebegan having sex with her while she was still asleep andtherefore unable to give her consent.

Under Sweden''s strict laws on sexual assault, thoseallegations amount to molestation and a form of rape, andcould carry a prison sentence of several years.

Assange acknowledges having sex with the women butargued it was consensual.

He surrendered to police in London in December afterBritain received an arrest warrant from Sweden.

After a brief time in London''s Wandsworth prison, hewas given bail, but only on condition that he spend his nightsat a supporter''s country estate and wear an electronicmonitor.

His movements are relatively unrestricted during theday, and he has full access to the Internet.

Assange has said that the work of WikiLeaks iscontinuing in spite of his "mansion arrest," and he has cometo London to attend events at the Frontline Club, ajournalists'' hangout. .

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