Bail denied for WikiLeaks founder

LONDON (AP) - A British judge denied Julian Assange bail on Tuesday after theWikiLeaks founder told a London court he would fight efforts toextradite him to Sweden to face a sex-crimes investigation.

 

The secret-spilling websites' finances came under increasingpressure as both Visa and Mastercard cut off funding methods, but aWikiLeaks spokesman insisted details from classified U.S.diplomatic cables would keep flowing - regardless of what happenedto the group's founder.

"This will not change our operation," Kristinn Hrafnsson toldThe Associated Press. As if to underline the point, WikiLeaksreleased a cache of a dozen new diplomatic cables, its firstpublication in more than 24 hours.

Assange appeared Tuesday afternoon at the City of WestminsterMagistrates' Court in London after turning himself in to ScotlandYard earlier in the day. He showed no reaction as Judge HowardRiddle denied him bail and sent him into U.K. custody.

Assange and his lawyers claim the Swedish accusations from twowomen stem from a "dispute over consensual but unprotected sex"dating back to August, and have claimed the case has taken onpolitical overtones. Swedish officials have rejected thoseclaims.

Assange faces rape and sexual molestation allegations in onecase and sexual molestation and unlawful coercion in the other. Hedenies the allegations.

Riddle asked the 39-year-old Australian whether he understoodthat he could consent to be extradited to Sweden. Assange, dressedin a navy blue suit, cleared his throat and said: "I understandthat and I do not consent."

The decision to fight the extradition could be difficult.Extradition experts say that European arrest warrants like the oneissued by Sweden can be tough to beat, barring mental or physicalincapacity. Even if the warrant was defeated on a technicality,Sweden could simply issue a new one.

Assange's website, meanwhile, came under increasing financialpressure Tuesday - with both Visa and MasterCard saying they wouldblock payments to the controversial website.

In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press, Visa Inc. saidit was taking steps "to suspend Visa payment acceptance onWikiLeaks' website pending further investigation into the nature ofits business and whether it contravenes Visa operating rules."

MasterCard sent a similar statement, saying it would suspendpayments "until the situation is resolved."

The move chokes off two important funding avenues for WikiLeaks,a loosely knit group of activists who rely on individual donationsto fund their operations.

PayPal Inc., a popular online payment service, has already cutits links to the website, while Swiss authorities closed Assange'snew Swiss bank account on Monday, freezing tens of thousands ofeuros, according to his lawyers.

WikiLeaks is still soliciting donations through bank transfersto affiliates in Iceland and Germany, as well as by mail to anaddress at University of Melbourne in Australia.

Swedish lawyer Bjorn Hurtig said it was difficult to say howlong the extradition process in Britain would take - anywhere froma week to two months. He said if Assange was extradited to Sweden,he wouldn't be kept in detention after he's been questioned,"because it's been for the sake of the questioning that he's beendetained."

Beginning in July, WikiLeaks angered the U.S. government byreleasing tens of thousands of secret U.S. military documents onthe wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That was followed last week bythe ongoing release of what WikiLeaks says will eventually be aquarter-million cables from U.S. diplomatic posts around the world.The group provided those documents to five major newspapers, whichhave been working with WikiLeaks to edit the cables forpublication.

The U.S. government launched a criminal investigation, sayingthe group has jeopardized U.S. national security and diplomaticefforts around the world.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting with AfghanPresident Hamid Karzai and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, was pleasedby news of Assange's arrest.

"That sounds like good news to me," he said Tuesday.

Yet WikiLeaks has also seen an online army of supporters come toits aid, sending donations, fighting off computer attacks andsetting up over 500 mirror sites around the world to make sure thatthe secret documents are published regardless of what happens toAssange.

Hrafnsson also said the group had no plans at the moment torelease the key to a heavily encrypted version of some of its mostimportant documents - an "insurance" file that has been distributedto supporters in case of an emergency.

Hrafnsson said that will only come into play if "grave matters"involving WikiLeaks staff occur - but did not elaborate on whatthose would be.


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