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WikiLeaks's founder Assange seeks bail in UK court

LONDON (Reuters) - Lawyers for Julian Assange, held in Britain over allegations of sex crimes in Sweden, will try again on Tuesday to win bail for the WikiLeaks founder who provoked U.S. fury by publishing secret diplomatic cables.

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, which has made public about 500,000 classified U.S. files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, holds a news conference at the Geneva Press Club in Geneva, November 4, 2010, the day before the United Nation's Human Rights Council examines the U.S. human rights record in its universal periodic review programme. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud

The 39-year-old Australian handed himself in to British police last week after Sweden issued a European arrest warrant.

Assange was accused this year of sexual misconduct by two female Swedish WikiLeaks volunteers during a stay in Sweden. A Swedish prosecutor wants to question him about the accusations.

Assange, who denies the allegations, was remanded in custody at an initial British court hearing last week.

Assange and his lawyers have voiced fears that U.S. prosecutors may be preparing to indict him for espionage after the WikiLeaks website published details of some of a trove of 250,000 secret U.S. documents it has obtained.

“I came to Sweden as a refugee publisher involved with an extraordinary publishing fight with the Pentagon, where people were being detained and there is an attempt to prosecute me for espionage,” Assange said in a documentary broadcast on Swedish public television on Sunday.

The U.S. Justice Department has been looking into a range of criminal charges, including violations of the 1917 Espionage Act, that could be filed in the WikiLeaks case.

A ComRes poll of 2,000 Britons for CNN found 44 percent believed that the sex allegations against Assange were an excuse to get him into custody so the United States could prosecute him for releasing the secret papers. The same proportion believed Britain should send Assange to Sweden to face questioning.

Forty-one percent thought Assange should not be prosecuted for releasing the cables. Thirty percent thought he should be.

OPERATION PAYBACK

The classified cables have attracted worldwide media cover, embarrassing the United States and other countries.

Internet activists launched “Operation Payback” to avenge WikiLeaks against those perceived to have obstructed its operations. They temporarily brought down the websites of credit card firms Visa and MasterCard, as well as that of the Swedish government, last week.

The activists changed tack at the weekend, saying they now aimed to publish parts of the U.S. cables as widely as possible.

Assange’s Swedish lawyer has said he would fight any attempt to extradite his client.

At last week’s court hearing in London, Senior District Judge Howard Riddle said there were “substantial grounds” to believe Assange could abscond if granted bail.

Australian journalist John Pilger, British film director Ken Loach and Jemima Khan, former wife of Pakistani cricketer and politician Imran Khan, all offered to put up sureties to persuade the court Assange would not abscond.

Assange is alleged to have sexually molested one woman in Sweden by ignoring her request to use a condom when having sex with her. Another woman alleged Assange had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep.

Swedish prosecutors opened, then dropped, then re-opened an investigation into the allegations. The crime he is suspected of is the least severe of three categories of rape, carrying a maximum of four years in jail.

Editing by Jon Hemming

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