Assange is cool in court as world watches

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Julian Assange appeared calm and confident as he walked into the glass-walled dock of a packed London courtroom Tuesday, and showed little surprise at the media storm sparked by his arrest.

Wearing a dark blue suit and open-necked white shirt, the 39-year-old founder of whistleblowing site WikiLeaks coolly surveyed the journalists packing Court One of Westminster Magistrates Court, and even waved at a few.

Assange was arrested by British police hours earlier on a European warrant for allegedly sexually assaulting two women in Sweden.

He denies the claims and his British lawyer has denounced them as politically motivated.

His court appearance was the first since WikiLeaks began releasing 250,000 secret US embassy cables 10 days ago, causing a global diplomatic storm.

Clean-shaven and sporting a slightly styled version of his cropped, trademark white-blond hair, the tall and slim Assange was escorted into the dock of the modern courtroom by security guards and took his seat.

He spoke when asked to confirm his name and his birthday -- July 3, 1971.

But it was not long before he deviated from the script, and when District Judge Howard Riddle asked him for his address, he responded: "For your correspondence or for other reasons?"

When pressed, he gave a Post Office box number in Australia, prompting consternation among court officials who believed this insufficient.

Assange's defence lawyer had a quiet word with his client through the glass screen and then handed a piece of paper with an address on it to the judge, who read it out: "177 Grantham Street, Parkville, Victoria, Australia."

Amid further confusion, it was agreed that police had been given a British address for Assange, where he had been staying for the past three weeks, but it was decided it would not be read out in court for his own safety.

Sitting straight-backed and with his hands in his lap, Assange showed little sign of the pressure he is under over the WikiLeaks releases, which sparked outrage in Washington and which he says have led to threats on his life.

Assange's lawyer and the judge insisted the assault case had nothing to do with WikiLeaks and should be judged on its own merits.

But the huge media presence underscored the global interest in the case, as did the appearance in court of British socialite Jemima Khan, filmmaker Ken Loach and award-winning author John Pilger, all supporting Assange.

They each offered 20,000 pounds (23,600 euros, 31,400 dollars) surety for his bail, despite Khan and Loach admitting they did not know him personally.

"I know him by reputation," Loach told the court, adding about WikiLeaks: "I think we are entitled to know the dealings of those who govern us."

Pilger said he knew Assange personally "and I have a very high regard for him", adding: "I'm here today because the charges (allegations) against him in Sweden are absurd." He dismissed the Swedish prosecution as a "travesty".

However their generous offers -- which with three others totalled 180,000 pounds -- came to nothing as the judge ruled that Assange was a flight risk and had to be kept in custody until his next hearing on December 14.

Assange watched the judge closely as he delivered his verdict but showed little emotion, maintaining his straight back and calm expression before being escorted out of the courtroom.

As a white police van containing the suspect drove off from the court, it was mobbed by crowds of waiting photographers and a handful of supporters who shouted his name and held up signs saying a "travesty of justice".

© 2010 AFP

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