21 Aug 2012

Embassy balcony appearance by Assange

4:35 am on 21 August 2012

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has berated the United States for threatening freedom of expression and called on President Barack Obama to end a ''witch-hunt'' against his website.

In his first public statement since taking refuge in Ecuador's London Embassy in June, he said on Sunday that the United States was fighting a war against outlets like his. He was granted asylum by Ecuador last Thursday.

Mr Assange, 41, spoke from a balcony as he is unable to leave the Embassy. He faces extradition to Sweden over accusations of sexual assault, which he denies.

He fears the Swedish charges are a pretext for his eventual extradition to the United States.

''The United States must pledge before the world that it will not pursue journalists for shining a light on the secret crimes of the powerful,'' he said.

Mr Assange also called for the release of Private Bradley Manning, 24, who is accused of leaking classified documents to the site. He is to face a court martial.

The US is carrying out an investigation into Wikileaks, which has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables.