Judge grants bail to WikiLeaks' Julian Assange

LONDON (AP) - Julian Assange will be freed on bail and sent to stay at aBritish country mansion, a U.K. judge ruled Thursday, rejectingprosecutors' attempts to keep the WikiLeaks founder in prison as hefights extradition to Sweden.

Cheers erupted outside the London court as the verdict by HighCourt justice Duncan Ouseley was reported.

Prosecutors had argued there was a risk the 39-year-oldAustralian, who faces sex-crimes allegations in Sweden, wouldabscond if he was freed. But Ouseley said if Assange fled "he woulddiminish himself in the eyes of many of his supporters."

"I don't accept that Mr. Assange has an incentive not to attend(court)," Ouseley said. "He clearly does have some desire to clearhis name."

Assange, dressed in a dark gray suit, smiled and gave a thumb'sup sign to a packed courtroom as he was led from the dock by courtguards. It was not immediately clear how long it would take beforehe was released.

Assange was granted a conditional release on 200,000 pounds($316,000) bail by a lower court Tuesday, but prosecutorsappealed.

Ouseley made some amendments to the bail conditions. Assangemust wear an electronic tag, report to police every day and observea curfew. He also must stay at a registered address - a 10-bedroommansion in eastern England owned by Vaughan Smith, a WikiLeakssupporter and founder of London's Frontline Club forjournalists.

Assange has been in prison since Dec. 7, following his surrenderto British police over a Swedish warrant. He denies any wrongdoingbut is refusing to surrender to Sweden's request to extradite himfor questioning.

Lawyers acting for Sweden say Assange is accused of rape,molestation and unlawful coercion by two women for separateincidents in August in Sweden. He has not been charged.

Assange's lawyers say the allegations stem from a dispute over"consensual but unprotected sex" and argue that he has offered tomake himself available for questioning via video link or in personin Britain.

Last month WikiLeaks deeply angered U.S. officials by beginningto publish its trove of 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables.

Assange's supporters suspect the claims against him arepolitically motivated - a charge Sweden has denied.

Assange remained in custody as his lawyers scrambled to assemblethe 200,000 pounds bail. Lawyer Mark Stephens said earlier he wasconfident the amount, pledged by several supporters, could beraised.