Interpol notice may be linked to US WikiLeaks anger: lawyer

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The British lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Wednesday that Interpol's pursuit of his client could be linked to the "bellicose" US reaction to the recent release of secret diplomatic cables.

Media lawyer Mark Stephens refused, however, to give the whereabouts of the 39-year-old Australian, for whom the global police agency issued a so-called "red notice" for questioning on suspicion of rape on behalf of Sweden.

"This is a persecution and not a prosecution," Stephens said in a statement.

"At this point in time we have no evidence pointing to a link between these allegations from August and the issue of the Interpol alert just two days after the WikiLeaks first release of US diplomatic cables," Stephens said.

"However, it is highly unusual for a red notice warrant to be issued in relation to the allegations reported as having been made, since Swedish law does not require custodial orders in relation to the allegation."

He said it appeared to be a "unique action" by Swedish prosecutors.

Stephens added: "We are also investigating whether the prosecutor's application to have Mr Assange held incommunicado without access to lawyers, visitors or other prisoners -- again a unique request -- is in any way linked to this matter (the WikiLeaks data release) and the recent, rather bellicose US statements of an intention to prosecute Mr Assange."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused WikiLeaks on Monday of an "attack on the international community" by releasing the vast trove of leaked US diplomat memos containing a string of embarrassing revelations.

Earlier this month Stephens told AFP that Assange was in Britain, but he did not give details on where his client was now.

Sweden's International Public Prosecution Office in Gothenburg issued an arrest warrant for the secretive activist on November 18, citing "probable cause of suspected rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion."

Assange has contested Sweden's international arrest warrant in a Stockholm appeals court, but his first bid to get it thrown out was rejected last week and he has lodged a second appeal.

© 2010 AFP

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