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British judge: Assange can be extradited

LONDON - Julian Assange can be extradited to Sweden in a sex crimes inquiry, a British judge ruled yesterday, rejecting claims by the WikiLeaks founder that he would not face a fair trial there. Assange's lawyer said he would appeal.

Judge Howard Riddle said the allegations of rape and sexual molestation against Assange meet the definition of extraditable offenses and said the Swedish warrant had been properly issued and was valid.

Assange, 39, a key figure in the release of tens of thousands of secret U.S. government and military documents, has been out on bail during the extradition fight. He has seven days to appeal the ruling.

After hearing three days of testimony, Riddle concluded "there is simply no reason to believe there has been a mistake" about the European arrest warrant issued by Swedish authorities. He dismantled the defense case against extradition point by point, rejecting the claim that comments made against Assange by Swedish prosecutors and politicians would pervert the course of justice.

Assange's lawyers said Sweden's custom of hearing rape cases behind closed doors meant he would not get a fair trial, but Riddle said the practice was common in Sweden.

The lawyers have expressed concern their client risks being handed over to the United States, which is investigating whether he and WikiLeaks have violated U.S. laws.

The judge said it was wrong for the defense to raise the question of a possible extradition to the United States, given the absence of any evidence that Assange risks torture or execution.

The hearing attracted Assange's usual coterie of high-profile supporters, including Bianca Jagger. A dozen supporters gathered outside the court, hanging banners and signs saying "Free Julian Assange and Bradley Manning," the U.S. Army private suspected of leaking the documents to WikiLeaks.

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