Assange: Obama exploiting Arab Spring in campaign

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange accused President Barack Obama on Thursday of seeking to exploit the Arab uprisings for personal political gain, as he addressed a sideline meeting of the U.N. General Assembly via videolink from his hideout at a London embassy.

The Australian activist has sheltered inside Ecuador’s embassy in London — beyond the reach of British police — since June 19, when he sought refuge after he exhausted all legal routes to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning over sex crimes allegations.

Assange and his supporters claim that the Swedish sex case is part of a Washington-orchestrated plot to make him stand trial in the United States over his work with WikiLeaks, which has published thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables and other documents. Both Sweden and the U.S. reject that claim.

At a sideline meeting organized by Ecuador, the activist attempted to draw parallels between himself and the instigators of the Arab Spring — claiming that they had all been let down by Obama.

“It must come as a surprise to Tunisians for Barack Obama to say the U.S. supported the forces of change in Tunisia,” Assange said, speaking from Ecuador’s tiny apartment-sized London mission.

He claimed that uprisings across the Arab world had been inspired, in part, by his organization’s disclosures about despotic rulers, including Tunisia’s deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Assange claimed that Obama — whose administration he accuses of building a criminal case against WikiLeaks and of harassing its staff — was seeking to exploit the reforms of the Arab Spring during his reelection campaign.

“Mohamed Bouazizi did not set himself on fire so that Barack Obama could get reelected,” Assange told the meeting, referring to the 2011 self-immolation by a Tunisian fruit vendor which sparked the uprising that toppled Ben Ali.

Assange, who made no reference to the Swedish sexual misconduct case as he addressed diplomats, also accused Britain and Sweden of failing to provide guarantees that he would not face extradition to the U.S. to help preserve close military and intelligence links with Washington.

Both European nations insist that Assange must be sent to Sweden under international and European law, and that they cannot legally offer any pledges to refuse a possible future U.S. extradition request.

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has granted Assange asylum, but if he steps outside the country’s London embassy he will be arrested by police who surround the building.

The case has left Britain, Ecuador and Sweden at a diplomatic impasse. Foreign ministers from Quito and London will meet Thursday in New York, as Assange marks 100 days holed up in the embassy.

Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patino told the meeting that he believed there were “many ways to achieve a solution,” without specifying potential routes. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday that he saw “no sign of any break through” in the saga.

Britain’s foreign ministry said it was “committed to seeking a diplomatic solution” with Ecuador, but insisted that it was legally obliged to send Assange to Sweden.