Julian Assange balcony speech - victim or manipulator?
Swedish police travelled abroad to quiz murder suspect - so why can't they see Assange in London?
SPEAKING from the Ecuadorean embassy balcony yesterday, Julian Assange portrayed himself as the victim of a globe-spanning anti-democratic attack by the US. Are his fears legitimate - or just a smokescreen to evade allegations that he committed sexual offences in Sweden?
Support came from Assange's celebrity backers. Academic and journalist Tariq Ali told the crowd in front of the Knightsbridge embassy we should "change our gaze", reports The Guardian, adding that somebody shouted back: "So should you, mate!"
Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood sent a message of support, regretting that she could not be there in person. Campaigning documentary-maker John Pilger also regretted his absence but told the BBC News channel that he fully supports his fellow Australian.
Talking to BBC News from Washington after the 10-minute speech, US columnist Mark Weisbrot said anybody who believes Sweden really wants Assange to be extradited simply to face questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct is fooling themselves.
Assange faces no charges in Sweden relating to the two women's allegations – and the claims they have made would not stand up even in a US court, he argued.
He said the Swedes had turned down repeated offers to interview Assange about the allegations in London. As Weisbrot wrote in The Guardian last week, from this "we can infer that the Swedes have no legitimate reason for the extradition".
Weisbrot also pointed out yesterday that Swedish police recently flew to Serbia to interview a man they want to extradite on suspicion of murder.
The circumstances of that case are not identical: the un-named man is in jail in Belgrade and not therefore at liberty to come to Sweden; and he is apparently willing to be extradited. But if the Swedes are prepared to travel abroad to quiz a suspected killer, why can't they do the same in Assange's case?
An editorial in The Independent was unimpressed with Assange's "bombast", seeming to find unlikely his claim that the police would have stormed the embassy if it wasn't for the band of "hardcore supporters" camped outside last week.
The paper noted that Assange "signally failed to mention" that he is stuck in the embassy "not because he is a fighter for freedom but because he is wanted in Sweden over wholly unrelated allegations of sexual assault".
Assange faces "substantive criminal claims" and the US has "made no move towards" extraditing him, said the Independent. It concluded that the speech may have gone down well with Assange's fans but the wider world wants to know why he is "going to such lengths to avoid accounting for himself".
Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail calls Assange a "monstrous narcissist" whose claims are "ludicrous". She writes:"Ultra-egalitarian Sweden is hardly a dictatorship. Both Britain and Sweden are democracies committed to human rights …
"Ecuador, however, has no culture of human rights or freedom of speech. On the contrary, it jails political dissidents on trumped-up charges, regularly locks up journalists and shuts down newspapers or TV stations which criticise its president."