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Assange: US must stop 'witchhunt'

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has appeared on the balcony of Ecuador's embassy in London. In a 10 minute speech, Assange claimed the US was threatening freedom of expression.

WikiLeaks founder, Australian Julian Assange appeared on the balcony of Ecuador's embassy in London on Sunday, praising the "courage" shown by the nation's president, Rafael Correa in granting him asylum.

"I thank President Correa for the courage he has shown in considering and in granting me political asylum," Assange told the contingency of international media gathered outside the embassy.

Assange rebuked the US for threatening freedom of expression and called on US President Barack Obama to stop its "witchunt" against his whistleblowing website, as supporters cheered.

"I ask President Obama to do the right thing, the United States must renounce its witchhunt against WikiLeaks."

Watch video 01:19

Julian Assange speaks to his supporters

The accusations, Assange said, are politically motivated. He believes the US wishes to put him on trial for divulging state secrets.

Assange added the US risked thrusting the world into an era of journalistic oppression: "As WikiLeaks stands under threat, so does the freedom of expression and the health of all our societies."

In his ten minute speech from the embassy's balcony, where he is staying to avoid arrest by British police, Assange demanded that Bradley Manning, a US army intelligence analyst and suspected source of leaking confidential US diplomatic communiqués to WikiLeaks, be released from a US prison.

Washington meeting

This Friday, an emergency meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organisation of American States (OAS) will take place in Washington D.C. to talk about the issue of his asylum, Assange said.

The OAS Permanent Council called for the meeting Friday at Ecuador‘s request in a vote of 23 in favour and only three - the United States, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago - against. Five other countries abstained.

OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said: “The central issue is not the right of asylum, it is the inviolability of embassies.”

Insulza recalled that last year the United Nations Security Council ruled “very strictly on the absolute immunity that diplomatic missions must have in all the countries of the world.”

Assange's Sunday appearance was his first public statement since he was granted political asylum by Ecuador last Thursday.

Plans on hold

Assange has been holed up at the embassy since June 19, when he walked into the embassy after exhausting all legal avenues in Britain to fight his extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted over alleged sex crimes. He denies the charges.

WikiLeaks infuriated the United States and its allies by using its website to expose hundreds of thousands of classified US diplomatic and military communiqués in 2010. Documents included video of a US attack in Iraq.

Assange gave no hint of what his immediate plans were.

jlw/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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