WikiLeaks' Assange downplays health concerns

LONDON Thu Nov 29, 2012 1:41pm EST

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, speaking during a teleconference from Ecuador's embassy in central London, is pictured on a screen during a news conference in Brussels November 27, 2012. A block on processing donations for WikiLeaks by Visa Europe and other credit card companies is unlikely to have violated EU anti-trust rules, the European Commission said on Tuesday. Assange said there were no lawful grounds for the card companies' actions, which he said had cost Wikileaks 95 percent of its revenue and threatened his organisation's existence. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, speaking during a teleconference from Ecuador's embassy in central London, is pictured on a screen during a news conference in Brussels November 27, 2012. A block on processing donations for WikiLeaks by Visa Europe and other credit card companies is unlikely to have violated EU anti-trust rules, the European Commission said on Tuesday. Assange said there were no lawful grounds for the card companies' actions, which he said had cost Wikileaks 95 percent of its revenue and threatened his organisation's existence.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Vidal

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LONDON (Reuters) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, holed up in London's Ecuadorian embassy for nearly six months, played down concerns about his health on Thursday, saying he enjoyed being at the centre of the legal and diplomatic storm.

Assange, 41, whose website angered the United States by releasing thousands of secret diplomatic cables, took sanctuary in Ecuador's embassy in June, jumping bail after exhausting appeals in British courts against extradition to Sweden for sexual assault allegations.

Ecuadorian officials have said the former computer hacker is suffering from a chronic lung ailment as a result of his long stay in the embassy.

Dressed in a dark suit and white shirt fastened with silver-colored cufflinks in the shape of a 'W' and an 'L', Assange showed no outward sign of health problems.

"The confinement, the circumstances are obviously difficult," was all Assange would say when questioned about his health by Reuters.

"I rather enjoy being swept away in the storm of it all. You only live once so it's important that we do something that is meaningful with our time," he said.

He is said to be living a cramped life inside the modest diplomatic mission. He eats mostly take-out food and uses a treadmill to burn off energy and a vitamin D lamp to make up for the lack of sunlight.

The whistleblower said he has used his time at the embassy to focus on his work, including a book "Cypherpunks" in which he warns that the growing amount of personal data we store online could render society a "slave to the internet".

Speaking in a gilt-corniced conference room, accessed via an entrance hall decorated with a beaming portrait of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, Assange spoke vehemently about the dangers of cyber-surveillance by governments and private companies.

(Reporting By Alessandra Prentice)

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