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WikiLeaks chief to fight extradition in UK appeals court

Julian Assange's legal team will try to convince a court to deny an extradition order from Sweden

WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange will head to London's High Court on Tuesday to try to reverse an extradition order that would send him to Sweden for questioning about sexual assault allegations.

In February, a district judge ruled that Sweden's extradition request was valid despite arguments from Assange's legal team that, if charged, he would face an unfair trial since press and the public are excluded from portions of sexual assault trials.

Assange, 40, of Australia, has not been charged by Swedish prosecutors, who say they want to question Assange about sexual encounters with two women in Sweden last August.

Sweden filed a European Arrest Warrant and Assange voluntarily turned himself into U.K. police on Dec. 7. His attorneys argued at the February hearing that an extradition request should only be filed when a person is charged and not for questioning. But Sweden's legal representative, Clare Montgomery, argued that the country intends to charge him.

Since the hearing in February, Assange has changed his legal team and will now be represented well-known human rights lawyers Gareth Peirce and Ben Emmerson. Neither had a comment on Monday on the appeals hearing, which is scheduled to last two days. At its conclusion, the judges will likely returning a ruling at a later date.

Assange has sought to connect his personal legal problems as retribution for the work of WikiLeaks, which angered the U.S. government when it began releasing more than 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic dispatches leaked to the website last November.

The U.S. has not charged Assange with a crime, however, although he has been under investigation. If Assange is sent to Sweden, both Sweden and the U.K. would have to give their approval if the U.S. tried to extradite him.

So far the only person charged in connection with the release of the cables is U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley E. Manning. He is charged with mishandling and transferring classified information and awaiting trial at the U.S. Army's detention facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

WikiLeaks continues to release the diplomatic cables, although the documents are not generating the massive media coverage as when the site first began posting the documents. Just 16,068 of 251,287 cables have been released so far, according to the site on Monday, and cables continue to trickle out daily.

WikiLeaks' main site, however, has not been taking new submissions "due to re-engineering improvements the site to make it both more secure and more user-friendly."

"We anticipate reopening the electronic drop box and live chat support in the near future," according to a note on its submissions page.

WikiLeaks has also been struggling with accepting donations since Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, Western Union and the Bank of America cut off payment links due to the cables release, costing what the organization claims US$15 million. It has since set up alternative ways to accept money.

Assange has been free on bail since December is staying in Norfolk, England, at the manor of Vaughan Smith, who founded the journalism organization the Frontline Club.

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