Assange can pursue extradition fight in Britain: court

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was on Monday granted permission to apply to England's highest court in a final attempt to block his extradition to Sweden over rape allegations.

Two High Court judges ruled that the case raised a question "of general public importance" which should be decided by the Supreme Court "as quickly as possible".

Although the judges refused Assange permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, they ruled that it should have the last word, clearing the way for his lawyers to apply directly to the higher court.

However, he still has no automatic right to be heard by the Supreme Court.

Assange, the 40-year-old founder of the whistleblowing website that has infuriated Washington by releasing hundreds of thousands of classified US documents, was in court to hear the judges' ruling.

Asked if he was happy with the decision, he replied simply: "Yes."

Outside the court, Assange's lawyer Gareth Peirce said his legal team had 14 days to submit a written petition to the Supreme Court.

Peirce confirmed that if the court refuses to hear the request, then Assange would have exhausted all legal avenues in Britain.

"The Supreme Court receives it and considers it on paper, three judges from the Supreme Court consider it and whether to grant leave to the case," Peirce told reporters.

"If they refuse leave, it is the end of it."

Assange was arrested in London a year ago on a European arrest warrant and has been living at the country estate of a supporter under stringent bail conditions.

Two women in Sweden made allegations that of rape and molestation dating back to August 2010.

Assange claims the allegations are politically motivated and linked to WikiLeaks' release of hundreds of thousands of classified US files about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Later releases of US diplomats' cables from embassies across the world also embarrassed the US administration.

A lower court initially approved Assange's extradition in February, but he appealed to the High Court which rejected his challenge on November 2.

Support for the platinum blond WikiLeaks chief has dwindled amid a slew of controversies, including a spectacular falling-out with the organisation's former media partners, the New York Times and Guardian newpapers.

Former WikiLeaks colleagues have turned on him, attacking the way he ran the site.

However, he retains many supporters and this month WikiLeaks was awarded a top Australian journalism prize, Walkley Awards, for its work in releasing the cables.

The suspected source of the cables, US soldier Bradley Manning, was arrested and has spent the last 18 months in a military prison.

WikiLeaks suffered a jolt when the site was forced to suspend releasing files in October after a funding blockade.

It resumed publication last week with the launch of a project on the global surveillance industry.

© 2011 AFP

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