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WikiLeaks chief Assange back in court in London


WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange was back in court in London Tuesday for the latest stage in his battle against extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over sexual assault allegations.

The 39-year-old Australian has been living on the country estate of a friend in eastern England since being released on bail on December 16, nine days after he was arrested by British police on a Swedish warrant.

Assange has denounced the allegations made by two Swedish women as politically motivated, linking them to the release by WikiLeaks of thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables. Swedish prosecutors reject his claims.

He arrived at Woolwich Crown Court in southeast London by car accompanied by his lawyer ahead of the 1000 GMT hearing.

The hearing has been moved from the court in central London where Assange has previously appeared in order to accommodate the dozens of journalists from around the world who want to follow the proceedings.

A judge will chair the hearing, which is expected to be short and largely procedural. The full extradition hearing is likely to take place next month.

Assange has said the allegations against him have only strengthened his determination to continue publishing documents on the whistleblowing website, but acknowledged the case has taken its toll on his finances.

He has agreed to a book deal to raise funds for his legal defence, telling the Sunday Times newspaper last month that he would receive more than £1 million (€1.2 million, $1.5 million) for his autobiography.

In a statement issued last week by Canongate Books, who will publish the book in Britain in April, Assange said he hoped the tome "will become one of the unifying documents of our generation".

He said the book would "explain our global struggle to force a new relationship between the people and their governments."

The release of the latest WikiLeaks documents has caused outrage in the United States.

US Vice President Joe Biden has described Assange as a "hi-tech terrorist" and said the US Justice Department was considering how to take legal action against him.

In a statement issued ahead of the court hearing Tuesday, Assange condemned the violent rhetoric against him by a number of US politicians and media commentators and demanded that those responsible face prosecution.

He drew parallels between the rhetoric used against him and WikiLeaks and accusations that similar language in the United States led to the shooting of Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona at the weekend.

"No organisation anywhere in the world is a more devoted advocate of free speech than WikiLeaks but when senior politicians and attention-seeking media commentators call for specific individuals or groups of people to be killed, they should be charged with incitement -- to murder," Assange said.

"Those who call for an act of murder deserve as significant share of the guilt as those raising a gun to pull the trigger."

In the latest fallout from the WikiLeaks files, Denmark's opposition summoned officials to parliament Monday to explain leaked cables saying the government had urged the US to ignore its own questions about rendition flights.

Meanwhile in Iceland, the foreign ministry has summoned the US ambassador after a US court called on Twitter to release details on WikiLeaks supporters, including an Icelandic lawmaker.

It said its permanent secretary and a legal adviser had "expressed serious concern that an Icelandic parliamentarian was subject to a criminal investigation".

'Cannot survive' without losses

Assange said the besieged whistleblower website "cannot survive" if it continues to haemorrhage money, in an interview broadcast in France on Tuesday.

Assange, who has enraged the United States by leaking US diplomatic cables that embarrassed world leaders, has said his site has been losing almost half a million euros ($650,000) a week since those leaks began.

"We cannot survive the way things are going," he told the French radio station Europe 1, complaining that the organisation's ability to garner online donations has been blocked.

But he vowed Wikileaks would fight back. In a separate interview with France Info radio, he said Wikileaks aimed to continue leaking documents.

Assange was speaking from Britain, where he is on bail facing possible extradition to Sweden for questioning on allegations of sexual assault. A court hearing was due later Tuesday to set a date for his trial.

The Wikileaks website was blocked after it began leaking its flood of cables, but soon sprang up again in various countries.

"The organisation is being attacked but it is growing quite quickly," Assange told Europe 1.

In an interview published Monday in Swiss newspapers, Assange said Wikileaks was losing more than €480,000 since it started publishing the diplomatic cables.

"To continue our business, we would need to find a way or other to get this money back," he said.

He did not explain exactly how Wikileaks was losing so much money with the website, but several banks or payment systems have reportedly stopped doing business with it.

"I would say that the pressure reinforces my determination," he said in the Swiss interview. "But from a financial point of view, it's another matter."