LONDON // Demonstrations are being staged across the world in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is in prison in Britain on a Swedish extradition warrant alleging that he sexually assaulted two women.
As the US president, Barack Obama, issued his strongest condemnation yet of the "deplorable" leaks of US diplomatic cables, a string of protests have been reported in more than a dozen major cities, with more planned. One of the biggest demonstrations yesterday was outside the South Australia parliament building in Adelaide.
"An attack on Assange is an attack on WikiLeaks and an attack on WikiLeaks is an attack on us and our right to know the truth," organiser Richard Bergin told a crowd of 300.
In Spain, where there has already been demonstrations in Madrid and Barcelona, a WikiLeaks support group is calling for more protests across the globe in support of Mr Assange, whose arrest they claim is politically motivated.
Mr Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, was arrested in London last week accused of four sexual assaults, including one charge of rape, on the women in Stockholm in August. He has denied the charges, insisting the sex with the women was consensual.
He was remanded in custody pending an extradition hearing and his lawyers will make an application to get him released on bail tomorrow.
Mr Assange's arrest has sparked public protests in cities as far apart as Sydney, London, Sao Paulo, Budapest, New York, Amsterdam and Lima. There has also been a spate of largely unsuccessful cyber attacks on Visa and MasterCard after the two companies stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks.
Supporters of the whistleblower website fear that Mr Assange could be sent to the US to face charges under the Espionage Act if he is extradited by the UK to Sweden.
Jennifer Robinson, one of his British lawyers, told the Australian radio station AM: "We do consider that extradition to Sweden will simply be a precursor to extradition to the US.
"Again, we are yet to see a sensible analysis of what provisions of law under US law he has in fact breached. And we would consider any prosecution of the Espionage Act unconstitutional as a matter of the first amendment."
At the weekend, Mr Obama told the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call about "his regrets for the deplorable action by WikiLeaks", according to a White House spokesman.
The comments are seen as the US leader's most forceful yet against the website and mark a hardening of attitude in the White House to Mr Assange and the leaking of about a quarter of a million documents.
Christine Assange, his mother, told reporters in Melbourne at the weekend that her son faced "massive forces" who have "decided they're going to stop him and they're not going to play by the rules".