Assange enjoying the chill English country air
ELLINGHAM, England |
ELLINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Julian Assange looks every inch the country gentleman in his green trousers, padded jacket and leather boots, standing outside an 18th-century mansion set in hundreds of acres of snow-clad English woodland.
Assange is staying at Ellingham Hall in rural East Anglia, about three hours' drive northeast of London, as part of his bail conditions after being freed from nine days in prison.
A day earlier, the founder of the WikiLeaks website, wanted in Sweden for questioning over rape allegations, had been sitting in the dock at London's high court as his legal team tried to win his release.
The white-haired Australian is the scourge of the U.S. establishment after his organization released hundreds of the 250,000 American diplomatic cables it had obtained, embarrassing the establishment and drawing fire for publicising sensitive security targets.
In the nearby market town of Bungay, as elsewhere, Assange divides opinion between those who believe the release of diplomatic cables dangerous and those who think it is good for democracy and freedom of speech.
"My wife and I disagree about him," said retired brigadier Alasdair Wilson, who had just finished a golf club breakfast.
"I was involved in the Bosnian war and leaked conversations would have caused damage, but my wife says it is great to open up diplomatic dialogue and rid it of its hypocrisy."
The 39-year-old computer expert is accused in Sweden of having unprotected sex with one woman, and sex with another while she was asleep.
He denies the allegations and says he is the victim of a smear campaign, but they seem to weigh on his new neighbours in Bungay.
"They are extremely unpleasant allegations, and I would not welcome anyone in this area if they are guilty of such offences," Susan Fitch, a 49-year-old florist, told Reuters.
Many Bungay residents have worked over the years for Ellingham's owners, servicing cars, arranging flowers or delivering mail.
The mansion, in the hands of the Smith family since about 1840, is one of many scattered around an area renowned for its flat countryside.
The current occupant, Vaughan Smith, is a former army officer who founded a news agency that specialised in covering wars and a press club in London, the Frontline Club.
He said one of the reasons Ellingham Hall had been chosen for Assange was because it was somewhere he could find tranquillity, and where the police would find it easier to deal with any possible threat.
The 10-bedroom house, where Assange will spend Christmas and the New Year, stands in 650 acres of woodland, with a small lake used for boating and the occasional swim.
"It is nice to have an historic building for an historic occasion," he told reporters outside the mansion, adding that he was enjoying the chance to have a Martini and snowball fights with friends.
"The fresh air is conducive to my work, and of course it makes a very significant change compared to being in solitary confinement in a basement in a prison in London."
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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