WikiLeaks chief denounces US 'rhetoric' on danger of leaks

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The founder of WikiLeaks on Sunday disputed assertions by US officials that disclosures by his anti-secrecy organisation and fellow leaker Edward Snowden have put lives at risk.

Julian Assange, in an interview with ABC television, was asked to respond to recent remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry that people could die as a consequence of explosive revelations by Snowden, the fugitive former National Security Agency contractor who blew the lid on vast US phone and Internet surveillance programmes. Other US officials have repeatedly made the same assertion.

"We have heard this rhetoric. I myself was subject to precisely this rhetoric two, three years ago. And it all proved to be false," Assange said.

"We had this terrible discussion about - which even exists in some of the tabloid press today - about it causing harm, but not a single US government official, no one from the Pentagon, any government, said any of our revelations in the past six years caused anyone to come to physical harm," he said. "And the revelations by Snowden, these are even more abstract."

Assange spoke from the Ecuadoran embassy in London where he has been holed up for a year to avoid being sent to Sweden. He is wanted there for questioning linked to rape allegations. The activist fears that if he is handed over to Scandinavian country, he will be passed onto the United States over a huge trove of sensitive leaks - diplomatic cables and Iraq and Afghanistan war logs - several years ago that left Washington red faced.

Assange and others linked to WikiLeaks are currently assisting Snowden, who caused an uproar with disclosures of secret US documents related to the surveillance programmes.

Washington issued a warrant for the 30-year-old's arrest and revoked his passport in the wake of the leaks. But so far he has eluded US authorities, first in Hong Kong and, for the past week in the transit area of a Moscow airport. He has asked Ecuador to grant him asylum, but the South American country says it cannot consider the request unless he is actually in the country.

In the ABC interview, Assange called Snowden a "hero" and said it was "not acceptable" that US Vice-President Joe Biden personally called Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa Friday to "pressure" him to reject Snowden's asylum request.

"The situation now with Edward Snowden is sensitive," Assange said. "It's a matter of international diplomatic negotiations." The Australian also suggested more Snowden leaks were forthcoming.

"There is no stopping the publishing process at this stage," Assange said.

"Great care has been taken to make sure that Mr. Snowden can't be pressured by any state to stop the publication process."

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