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Sweden offers to quiz Assange in London over rape allegations

Swedish prosecutors have offered to come to London to question WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over rape allegations. The move could break a long stalemate in the affair.

A Swedish prosecutor said on Friday that she had asked permission to question Julian Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy in the British capital, where he has taken refuge since losing a legal battle against extradition to Sweden in 2012.

Prosecutors had previously refused to travel to London, but lead prosecutor Marianne Ny said time was running out to press certain charges against Assange, as their statue of limitations will be reached in August.

"My view has always been that to perform an interview with him... in London would lower the quality of the interview," Ny said in a statement.

"Now that time is of the essence, I have viewed it therefore necessary to accept such deficiencies in the investigation and likewise take the risk that the interview does not move the case forward," Ny said.

She said she had also asked Assange's legal representatives whether he would allow a sample of his DNA to be taken.

Long-running case

Assange, an Australian citizen, is the subject of a Swedish arrest warrant issued in 2010 after two women accused him of sexual assault during a visit he made to Sweden that year.

The 43-year-old Assange, who denies the charges against him, has not been formally indicted in Sweden. Ecuador granted him asylum after he said he feared Sweden would extradite him to the United States, where he would face trial for his role in WikiLeaks publication of classified US diplomatic, military and intelligence documents.

In November, a Swedish appeals court rejected a request from Assange for the arrest warrant to be lifted, and said he must be questioned on the sexual assault accusations.

One of Assange's defense lawyers, Per Samuelson, welcomed Friday's offer, saying his client would probably accept it.

"It's something that we have been asking for four years," Per Samuelsson, one of Assange's lawyers, told the Swedish daily Aftonbladet. "This is the way to go so that he is (proven) innocent."

Under English law, a person interviewed under international legal assistance in a criminal case must provide his or her consent.

tj/sms (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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