Besieged WikiLeaks founder to meet British police

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange prepared Tuesday to surrender to British police over a sex crimes arrest warrant, as the net tightened around the website behind the release of secret US documents.

With the leaking of NATO plans to protect the Baltic states from Russia causing fresh diplomatic tensions, lawyers for Assange confirmed that the elusive 39-year-old Australian would meet with Scotland Yard detectives.

His lawyers said he would also fight extradition to Sweden, where the former hacker is wanted for questioning on suspicion of crimes including rape, but from where they fear he could then be passed on to the United States.

"We have got 10 days to do this and a lot of complex schedules to organise. I am sure it will be announced when it happens," his main London-based lawyer Mark Stephens said, without giving a date for the meeting.

Stephens told AFP late Monday that he was arranging for Assange to meet British police after they had telephoned him to say that they had received the extradition request from Sweden.

Another of Assange's London-based lawyers, Jennifer Robinson, said he was "isolated and persecuted" and that death threats had been made on blogs against his son.

"I think he will get a fair hearing here in Britain but I think our, his, prospects if he were ever to be returned to the US, which is a real threat, of a fair trial, is, in my view, nigh on impossible," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

British police said they would only comment once there had been a court appearance.

A court in Stockholm issued an arrest warrant for Assange on November 18 for questioning on suspicion of "rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion" in Sweden in August.

Assange has denied any wrongdoing and has not been formally charged.

WikiLeaks itself continued to be chased around the globe following its release of thousands of US diplomatic cables, with Swiss authorities shutting down one of Assange's bank accounts on Monday.

The Swiss Post Office's banking arm said he had provided false information in his application.

A French judge however, declined to force web provider OVH to shut down WikiLeaks, after the government called for it to be kicked out of France.

WikiLeaks has already been expelled from the United States where politicians have called for Assange to be treated as a terrorist.

Supporters of the website have responded by setting up hundreds of "mirror" sites to keep it online.

In one of the latest leaks, US cables released Tuesday showed that NATO had extended an existing defence plan covering Poland to include Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after they lobbied for extra protection.

Russia said it was "perplexed" by the plans, revealed in Britain's Guardian newspaper, which came just weeks after a NATO-Russia summit hailed as a breakthrough in relations.

"Such publications raise many questions in Russia and leave us perplexed," a source in the foreign ministry told the Interfax news agency on Tuesday.

One of its most explosive leaks so far came on Monday when WikiLeaks divulged a list of key infrastructure sites around the world that, if attacked by terrorists, could critically harm US security.

The list detailed undersea cables, key communications, ports, mineral resources and firms of strategic importance in countries ranging from Britain to New Zealand, via Africa, the Middle East and China.

US Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday that US authorities were pursuing a "very serious, active, ongoing investigation that is criminal in nature," into the leaks.

Among other developments:

-- Hong Kong's security chief denied that the city was at serious risk of being attacked by Al-Qaeda during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as leaked US diplomatic cables warned, citing Chinese intelligence sources.

-- The militant group Hezbollah has acquired an arsenal of some 50,000 rockets and missiles, raising fears of an enlarged conflict with Israel, cables printed the New York Times showed.

-- The United States suspected a Saudi Arabian ambassador to the Philippines of potential involvement in funding terrorists, another cable released by WikiLeaks showed.

© 2010 AFP

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