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  1. ITV Report

Julian Assange hails 'victory' as Swedish prosecutors drop rape investigation against him

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has hailed the unexpected decision by Swedish prosecutors to end a rape investigation against him as an "important victory" but warned "the proper war is just commencing".

In a rare speech to the media and his supporters on the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy balcony in London, Mr Assange said he had been "detained without charge for seven years".

After a clenched fist salute, he confirmed in his address he would still not leave the embassy as UK police remain prepared to act on a separate arrest warrant that remains in place.

Mr Assange said the "road is far from over" and said it was "extremely regretful" that he was still being threatened with arrest.

Scotland Yard said it would be obliged to arrest Mr Assange if he leaves the embassy as there is still an active warrant, apparently for breaching his bail in London.

But Mr Assange attacked the stance, saying: "The claim made by the UK that they can arrest me for seeking asylum is untenable."

Julian Assange made a speech as he appeared on the Ecuadorian embassy's balcony in London.

Sweden's Director of Public Prosecutions Marianne Ny announced they would be dropping the case over an alleged attack seven years ago.

Mr Assange appeared cleared to leave the embassy, where he has been living for almost five years to avoid extradition for questioning over the allegation.

Julian Assange refused to answer questions after addressing the media from the embassy balcony.

He has claimed that Sweden is likely to extradite him to the US over his leaking activities.

In the balcony speech, Mr Assange said the "legal conflict" with the United States and the UK would continue and said his legal team would reach out to the British authorities to try to find a way forward.

Mr Assange thanked the government of Ecuador for granting him political asylum despite "intense pressure", as well as his legal team and others who had stood by him.

Julian Assange's cat was spotted at the Ecuador embassy today as photographers waited for the WikiLeaks founder to appear. Credit: APTN

He said WikiLeaks will continue distributing material about the activities of the CIA in the United States and will "accelerate" its publications.

The Australian earlier condemned the action against him as he reacted to the dropping of the investigation.

Ecuador has said it will intensify diplomatic efforts, hoping the UK will grant safe passage to Mr Assange so he can take up asylum in the South American country.

Sweden's top prosecutor said she had decided to drop the case and withdraw the European arrest warrant as there was no prospect of moving forward with the investigation.

Ms Ny said "there was no reason to believe" that Mr Assange's extradition to Sweden could be secured "in the foreseeable future".

The decision to discontinue the preliminary investigation is not because we've been able to make a full assessment of the evidence in this case but because we don't see any possibilities to advance the investigation.

– Marianne Ny

However, if Mr Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations on the alleged offence runs out in 2020 then the preliminary investigation may be reopened, she added.

Mr Assange's defence lawyer described the prosecutor's decision as a "total victory for us".

Prime Minister Theresa May has said any further decision over Mr Assange within the UK would be an operational matter for police.

Sweden's Director of Public Prosecutions Marianne Ny explains the decision to drop the case.

Mr Assange was initially wanted for questioning over three separate alleged sexual offences in Sweden.

Two of those investigations - into alleged sexual molestation and unlawful coercion in 2010 - were previously dropped in 2015 because they had exceeded the time limit in which they could be prosecuted.

Mr Assange was questioned over the remaining allegation of rape over six months ago inside the embassy in the presence of Swedish officials. He has always denied all of the allegations.

Mr Assange has living in the embassy for nearly five years to avoid extradition. Credit: APTN

A Twitter post by WikiLeaks suggested that Mr Assange may not leave Ecuador's embassy as he has concerns that the UK could move to extradite him to America.

Ecuador's government recently sent a letter to Swedish officials complaining of a "serious failure" by prosecutors to complete inquiries.

It also said Mr Assange faced an "obvious risk" of extradition proceedings by Donald Trump's regime.

US officials have never announced they are seeking Mr Assange's extradition.

The development in Mr Assange's case comes a day after WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning was released from a US prison.

She has initially been due to serve 35 years but had her sentence reduced by former US president Barack Obama.

Julian Assange has a somewhat turbulent relationship with his Ecudaorian hosts. Credit: AP

The Metropolitan Police (MPS) said they would be "obliged" to arrest Mr Assange for his breach of bail but their response would be "proportionate".

A statement said the "situation has changed" after Sweden dropped the investigation and his only outstanding warrant for a breach of bail was a "much less serious offence" than the alleged ape.

It said the force "will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate" in the circumstances.

Police on guard outside the Ecuadorian embassy last November. Credit: PA

Mr Assange has not always enjoyed an easy relationship with officials and staff at Ecuador's embassy.

His internet connection was briefly cut off by the embassy after WikiLeaks released a batch of emails about Hillary Clinton during the US campaign.

There are reports Ecuadorian officials are keen to find a way for him to leave the embassy.