LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called on U.S. President Barack Obama to end a so-called "witch hunt" against his secret-spilling website, appearing in public Sunday for the first time since he took refuge two months ago inside Ecuador's Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex crimes allegations.
The 41-year-old Australian, who has fought for two years against efforts to send him to Sweden for questioning over alleged sexual misconduct against two women there, addressed a crowd of more than 200 supporters, reporters and dozens of British police, as he spoke from the balcony of Ecuador's mission.
Ecuador on Thursday granted Assange asylum and he remains out of reach of British authorities while he is inside the country's small embassy. Britain insists that if he steps outside, he will be detained and sent to Sweden.
Assange and his supporters claim the Swedish case is merely the opening gambit in a Washington-orchestrated plot to make him stand trial in the U.S. over his work with WikiLeaks — something disputed by both Swedish authorities and the women involved.
"I ask President Obama to do the right thing. The United States must renounce its witch hunt against WikiLeaks," Assange said as he read aloud a written statement. "The Unites States must dissolve its FBI investigation. The United States must vow that it will not seek to prosecute our staff or our supporters."
On Saturday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Obama administration considers Assange a matter for the governments of Britain, Sweden and Ecuador to resolve.
A Virginia grand jury is studying evidence that might link Assange to Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who has been charged with aiding the enemy by passing the secret files to WikiLeaks and is awaiting trial. No action against Assange has yet been taken.
Assange also urged the U.S. to release Manning, but said: "If Bradley Manning really did as he is accused, he is a hero, an example to us all, and one of the world's foremost political prisoners."
The WikiLeaks founder did not refer in his statement to the Swedish allegations against him, or indicate how he believes the standoff over his future may be resolved.
Assange attempted to draw parallels between himself and the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, three of whose members were convicted and jailed this week for a performance denouncing President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral.
"There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response," Assange said.
He shot to international prominence in 2010 when his WikiLeaks website began publishing a huge trove of American diplomatic and military secrets — including 250,000 U.S. embassy cables that highlight the sensitive, candid and often embarrassing backroom dealings of U.S. diplomats.
As he toured the globe to highlight the disclosures, two women accused him of sex offenses during a trip to Sweden.