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Assange launches WikiLeaks Party to challenge Australian elections

Julian Assange has launched his WikiLeaks Party's Senate candidate team for Australian elections this year. He himself is one of three party candidates in the state of Victoria for elections to be held before December.

The 41-year-old Australian addressed the party launch in Melbourne on Thursday via Skype from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has lived for a year after taking asylum from extradition to Sweden to face questioning over sexual offense allegations. Registered by the Australian Electoral Commission earlier this month, the party will also field candidates in New South Wales and Western Australia.

"Putting the WLP in the Senate is the same as putting Australia's best investigative journalists in the Senate," Assange said. "That is what the dishonest Canberra establishment fears most," he added, referring to Australia's capital.

Assange says his party's seven candidates will address what he calls a gradual decline in Australian democracy over the past 30 years. Among the things highlighted at the launch, Assange outlined the welfare of asylum seekers like himself.

"One of the first actions of the WikiLeaks Party in the Senate would be to insist that there be full disclosure of the asylum-seeker arrangements with Papua New Guinea that (Prime Minister) Kevin Rudd announced last Friday," Assange said in an advance copy of his speech.

Rudd had arranged with the government of Papua New Guinea to resettle asylum seekers arriving by boat and deemed genuine or legitimate permanently in the impoverished Pacific nation. More than 15,000 people, most of them from the Middle East, have arrived by boat from Indonesia this year and the country's borders have emerged as a key election issue.

Assange said he plans to keep politicians honest and took issue with "the stealth with which our elected representatives have worked together (often across party lines) to pass laws without proper public consultation." Should Assange win a seat but find himself unable to leave the Ecuadoran embassy in London, Australia's rules would allow the new senator to nominate another WikiLeaks Party member to replace him.

mkg/dr (AFP, dpa, AP)