WikiLeaks fights to stay online as founder's arrest looms

4th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The WikiLeaks website was fighting to stay online Saturday after Sweden issued a new arrest warrant for its elusive chief and it battled cyber attacks and government attempts to silence it.

The whistleblowing website's founder Julian Assange briefly broke cover to say he had boosted his security after receiving death threats amid the storm unleashed by his site's publication of some 250,000 US diplomatic cables.

In Stockholm, Swedish prosecutors issued a new international arrest warrant for Assange -- who is believed to be in Britain -- on sex assault allegations that incorporated missing elements requested by British police.

"They were asking for additional information concerning the maximum penalty for all the crimes and infractions on the file. We usually only include the most severe offence," which was rape in this case, prosecution office spokeswoman Karin Rosander told AFP.

Reports in Britain said Assange could be arrested within 10 days.

The website was forced to turn to Switzerland for a new domain name after its original address was shut down by an American provider, while Paris tried to ban French servers from hosting it.

The Swiss address was out of service late Friday after the domain name was blocked by the US system provider but WikiLeaks popped up on more than 20 alternative websites.

The latest cables released by the site showed US officials suspected that Yemen had a secret cache of shoulder-fired missiles that could have threatened US forces if the weapons fell into the wrong hands.

Other cables highlighted what US officials described as Britain's "paranoia" about its so-called special relationship with Washington.

In an online question and answer session with The Guardian newspaper, Assange vowed to resist the "attacks against us by the US."

"The threats against our lives are a matter of public record. However, we are taking the appropriate precautions to the degree that we are able when dealing with a superpower," the 39-year-old Australian wrote.

Former US Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has said those responsible for supplying the leaked cables should face execution, while some pundits have called for Assange to be assassinated.

Assange's lawyer in London, Mark Stephens, said that neither Scotland Yard nor he had received the new arrest warrant released by Sweden.

Stephens linked the warrant to "sophisticated" efforts to take down the website, suggesting that a "state actor" was behind efforts to silence Assange.

In France, Industry Minister Eric Besson called for WikiLeaks to be banned from French servers, saying it was endangering lives.

"France cannot host Internet sites that violate the confidentiality of diplomatic relations and put in danger people protected by diplomatic secrecy," Besson wrote to the main body governing the Internet in France.

Amazon booted WikiLeaks off its computer servers on Wednesday following pressure from US politicians, and a day later a group of senators introduced legislation to make it illegal to publish the names of informants serving the US military and intelligence community.

WikiLeaks branded Amazon "cowardly" in a Twitter message on Friday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described the leaks as "an attack on the world" and has expressed her regret to Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari over their content.

Following cables that revealed criticism of the performance of British troops in Afghanistan, Clinton said she wanted to express her "deep respect and admiration for the extraordinary efforts" made by British forces.

Russia has also been upset by leaks branding it a virtual "mafia state" and President Dmitry Medvedev derided as a "Robin" to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's "Batman".

At a press conference on Friday with visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- himself a target of some of the cables -- Medvedev said the cables illustrated the "cynicism" of US foreign policy.

The White House told government agencies Friday to take measures to prevent employees without proper authorisation from accessing classified US diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks.


© 2010 AFP

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