CANBERRA Fugitive WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, holed up in London's Ecuadorian embassy for nine months, has appointed a high-profile opponent of Britain's monarchy to run his campaign for a seat in Australia's upper house of parliament.
Former Australian Republican Movement head and lawyer Greg Barns said on Monday he would be campaign director for the WikiLeaks Party spearheading Assange's rare absentee bid for a Senate seat in Australia's September 14 election, which even if successful would not bring him any legal protection.
"It's most definitely a serious campaign," Barns told Australian radio. "He does attract support from across the political spectrum. The party will offer a refreshing change from the Australian government culture of secrecy."
The former computer hacker, an Australian citizen, announced last year he would run for the 76-seat Senate and would use the protection of parliament to champion free speech and break court suppression orders.
Assange is considered a long shot to win a Senate seat as he would need to attract about 15 percent of votes in the Victoria state. If he wins, he would be able to take his seat from July 1, 2014, but would need to return to Australia to be sworn in.
If he wins a Senate seat, he would be covered by Australia's parliamentary privilege rules, which protect politicians against legal action over comments made in parliament.
Barns, a high-profile political campaigner at home, said Assange's party had already secured backing from a prominent Melbourne philanthropist -- former Citibank executive Philip Wollen -- and needed 500 members to fulfill party registration.
Assange struck a defiant tone in a recent interview, telling Australian academic website The Conversation that he felt "no fear" about the legal accusations against him.
"Truth is I love a good fight. Many people are counting on me to be strong. I want my freedom, of course. But confinement gives me time to think," he said.
Assange, 41, whose website angered the United States by releasing thousands of secret diplomatic cables, took sanctuary in Ecuador's embassy in London last June, jumping bail after exhausting appeals in British courts against extradition to Sweden for sexual assault allegations.
The silver-haired Assange burst into global prominence in 2010 when Wikileaks released secret footage, military files and diplomatic cables about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, prompting a furious response from the United States.
(Editing by Michael Perry)