WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange accepts Sweden's offer to question him in London

STOCKHOLM (Reuters/AFP) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will accept an offer by Swedish prosecutors to be questioned in London over rape allegations, his lawyer told AFP on Friday. "We are cooperating with the investigation," Mr Per Samuelsson said. "He will accept," he added, adding that his client welcomed the prosecutors' move, which could lead to a breakthrough in the five-year case.

Swedish prosecutors had asked for Mr Assange's approval to question him over allegations of sexual assault in London, where he is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy, the prosecutors said on Friday. The prosecutor is also asking to conduct a DNA test.

The Swedish lawyer also welcomed prosecutors' request on Friday to interview him in London, but said the process could take some time. "We welcome and see it also as a big victory... for Julian Assange that what we have demanded is finally going to happen," Mr Per Samuelson told Reuters..

He said, however, the request was accompanied by a number of formal requirements including that both Britain and Ecuador give their permission for the interview. "That means that could take time, despite the fact that we are in a hurry."

Mr Assange has been stuck inside the South American country's London embassy since June 2012 to avoid a British extradition to Sweden. Sweden wants to question him on allegations of sexual assault and rape, which he denies. The Australian says he fears that if Britain extradited him to Sweden he would then be extradited to the United States, where he could be tried for one of the largest information leaks in US history.

Britain's Foreign Office pledged its help, saying: "As we have made clear previously, we stand ready to assist the Swedish prosecutor, as required."

Up to now, Swedish prosecutors have refused to go to London to question the 43-year-old Australian over the allegations.

And Mr Assange has refused to go to Sweden to be questioned over the allegations, which he has vehemently denied, saying the sexual encounters were consensual.

But the prosecutor in charge of the case, Ms Marianne Ny, said Friday she was dropping her opposition as some of the alleged offences will reach their statute of limitations in August.

Ms Ny's office said in a statement she had always believed that interrogating Mr Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy would "lower the quality of the interview, and that he would need to be present in Sweden in any case should there be a trial".

"This assessment remains unchanged," she said, but added "now that time is of the essence, I have viewed it therefore necessary to accept such deficiencies... and likewise take the risk the interview does not move the case forward, particularly as there are no other measures on offer without Assange being present in Sweden".

Ms Ny has also asked to take a DNA sample from Mr Assange.

Sweden issued an arrest warrant for Mr Assange in 2010 following allegations from two women in Sweden, one who claimed rape and another who alleged sexual assault.

A lawyer for one of the women urged the Swedish authorities to question Mr Assange as soon as possible.

"For my client, possible charges must come before August," her lawyer Claes Borgstrom told AFP, who noted the statute of limitations in Sweden is five years for sexual assault and 10 years for rape.

Ms Elizabeth Fritz, a lawyer for the other woman, told AFP in an e-mail: "Assange did not make himself available to be interviewed in Sweden... That's why it is necessary to change the location of the interview."

Mr Assange fears that Sweden would pass him on to the United States, where an investigation is ongoing into WikiLeaks' release in 2010 of 500,000 classified military files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and 250,000 diplomatic cables which embarrassed Washington.

A former US army intelligence analyst, Ms Chelsea Manning, is currently serving a 35-year prison term for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks.

In 2012, Mr Assange took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London, where British police officers stand guard around the clock, at a cost so far to British taxpayers of almost £10.4 million, according to WikiLeaks.

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