Australia says to provide Assange with consular help

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will provide WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with consular help after he was remanded in custody by a British court over allegations of sex crimes in Sweden, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said on Wednesday.

Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, has angered U.S. authorities and triggered headlines worldwide by publishing secret diplomatic cables.

Rudd said Assange had contacted the Australian Consul-General in London and asked for consular support.

“We have confirmed we will provide that, as we do for all Australian citizens,” the foreign minister told ABC radio.

Rudd said consular officials had attended Assange’s appearance in court in London on Tuesday after Sweden had issued a European Arrest Warrant for him.

Assange, who denies the allegations, will remain in custody until a fresh hearing on December 14.

Rudd said Assange would be given a letter soon “which indicates we’ll be prepared to provide consular visits and any other level of consular support concerning his well-being and legal rights.”

“That is the proper thing to do for any Australian citizen,” Rudd added.

Assange’s British lawyer, Mark Stephens, told reporters a renewed bail application would be made, and that his client was “fine.”

He said many people believed the prosecution was politically motivated, and that Assange would be “released and vindicated.”

But a Swedish prosecutor was cited in newspaper Aftonbladet as saying the case was not a personal matter and was not connected with his WikiLeaks work.

WikiLeaks, which has provoked fury in Washington with its publications, vowed it would continue making public details of the 250,000 secret U.S. documents it had obtained.

Some recent documents have covered Australia and on Monday Rudd defended Australia’s relations with China as “robust” after a WikiLeaks document showed he had advised Washington it might need to use force to contain Beijing.

The Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday quoted more WikiLeaks documents as describing Rudd as an abrasive, impulsive “control freak” who presided over foreign policy blunders when he was prime minister.

Rudd, who was ousted as prime minister in June by his own ruling party, declined to comment directly on the report, citing the government’s policy on the WikiLeaks documents.

But he told Australia’s Seven Network: “I’m sure much worse has been written about me in the past and probably much worse will be written about me in the future but frankly, mate, I don’t care. My job’s just to act in Australia’s national interest as Australia’s foreign minister.”

Australia has previously faced some criticism in the media for not standing by Assange.

Reporting by Ed Davies; Editing by Mark Bendeich