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Latest WikiLeaks developments

LONDON (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin rules Russia by allowing a venal elite to siphon off cash from the world’s biggest energy producer, according to a picture painted by U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks.

Here are Thursday’s highlights in the unfolding story:

ITALY

- U.S. diplomats voiced concern over Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ties to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the grip of energy interests on Rome’s foreign policy.

The website had previously given a flavor of the U.S. view of Berlusconi, but what appeared to be a full cable from the U.S. embassy in Rome fills out a gloomy assessment that depicts Italy in thrall to Moscow.

(here)

ASSANGE

The lawyer acting for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange denied that Sweden had issued a valid European arrest warrant for alleged sex crimes, despite Stockholm’s insistence that legal difficulties with the warrant were resolved.

Swedish police earlier said technical problems hindering the arrest of the 39-year-old Australian had been ironed out, and a newspaper report said he was in Britain.

EGYPT

- President Hosni Mubarak warned U.S. officials Egypt might develop nuclear weapons if Iran obtained them.

A U.S. ambassador described Egypt, recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. aid since making peace with Israel in 1979, as a "stubborn and recalcitrant ally" in a February 2009 cable. (here)

AFGHANISTAN

-The U.S. envoy to Afghanistan calls President Hamid Karzai a “paranoid,” “weak” and “overly self-conscious” leader who may never stop America-bashing, in the latest diplomatic cables made public.

The disclosure of the private comments by Karl Eikenberry could add strain to Washington’s already tense relationship with Kabul, nine years into an unpopular war that critics say cannot be won.

ISRAEL

- The United States is worried about a rise in organized crime in Israel and is doing all it can to prevent the violent gangs from expanding their operations across the Atlantic.

A cable entitled "Israel, a promised land for organized crime?" showed the United States was concerned about more than just nuclear diplomacy and peace prospects in the Middle East. (here)

IAEA

-- U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Yukiya Amano insisted he was impartial in his work, after leaked U.S. diplomatic cables said he agreed with the United States on key issues including Iran.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper, citing such leaked notes, this week reported Amano had suggested in meetings with U.S. diplomats before he took office last year that “he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision.”

SRI LANKA

- The United States believes there is little prospect Sri Lanka will hold anyone accountable for the bloody end of the war with the Tamil Tigers because war crimes allegations involved top government figures, according to a January 15 cable sent by Patricia Butenis, U.S. ambassador in Colombo.

(here)

Another cable, from the U.S. embassy in London, revealed an admission by a British diplomat that former Foreign Secretary David Miliband pressured Sri Lanka's government for a ceasefire to help secure Labour Party votes from Britain's Tamil diaspora. (here)

TURKMENISTAN

- Turkmenistan’s leader is described as “not very bright” and “a practiced liar” in a cable from the U.S. embassy in the gas-rich Central Asian state.

It said Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov did not like the United States, Iran or Turkey, but was fond of China. Fastidiously neat, he once insisted all men who worked in his dental clinic had creases in their trousers. (here)

VENEZUELA

-- Cuban intelligence services directly advised Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in what a U.S. diplomat called the “Axis of Mischief,” according to a State Department cable.

Other cables released by the group revealed U.S. anxiety at Chavez's "coziness" with Iran, and concerns of Venezuelan Jews over what they saw as government prejudice against them. (here (here S1401.html)

COPORATE DISCLOSURES

-- Spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said WikiLeaks would also publish disclosures from the corporate world.

Hrafnsson, speaking at an event in London, confirmed that the website had information about the operations of a U.S. bank, but declined to identify it.

Compiled by Andrew Dobbie; Editing by Myra MacDonald

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