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Assange launches 'public interest' case after losing bid to have arrest warrant dropped

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Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange say he is "willing to answer to British justice" but won't risk extradition to the United States, after a British court ruled that the UK warrant for his arrest will stand.

A British court has kept a UK arrest warrant for Julian Assange in place, but is considering a fresh bid for the warrant for breaching his bail to be dropped on "public interest" grounds. 

"I'm not persuaded that the warrant should be withdrawn," judge Emma Arbuthnot said in criminal court in London, reading out her decision.

Mr Assange's lawyers then made a separate application that the arrest warrant be scrapped on public interest grounds.

Judge Arbuthnot says she'll hand down her ruling on that matter on February 13. 

In a string of tweets posted following the decision, Mr Assange dismissed "wall to wall fake news stating stating the government won today's hearing".

Speaking to the media outside court, Mr Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson said her client was looking forward to the outcome next week. 

"Today, we finally had the opportunity to put before the court the background to this case and the long history to the injustice that has led him to remain inside the Ecuadorian embassy," Ms Robinson said.

"We all hope that this situation will come to an end very soon and we look forward to the decision next week which will be the next step towards resolving it."

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Assange loses bid to have arrest warrant dropped

Mr Assange entered the Ecuadorian embassy to dodge a European arrest warrant and extradition to Sweden over a 2010 probe in the Scandinavian country into rape and sexual assault allegations.

Sweden dropped its investigation last year, but British police are still seeking to arrest Mr Assange for failing to surrender to a court after violating bail terms during his unsuccessful battle against extradition.

Mr Assange is seeking an assurance that he won't be extradited to the United States over WikiLeaks' publication of secret US military documents and diplomatic cables in 2010.

"Mr Assange remains willing to answer to British justice in relation to any argument of breach of bail, but not at the expense of facing injustice in America," Ms Robinson said.

"This case is and has always been about the risk of extradition to the United States and that risk remains real." 

Prosecutor Aaron Watkins last week called Mr Assange's court bid "absurd".

"The proper approach is that when a discrete, standalone offence of failing to surrender occurs, it always remains open to this court to secure the arrest," Mr Watkins said.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year said his arrest was a "priority".

Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, 19 May 2017.
Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, 19 May 2017.
EPA/AAP

'Face justice'

Mr Assange's lawyer Mark Summers told a London court last week that Mr Assange had been living in conditions "akin to imprisonment" and his "psychological health" has deteriorated and was "in serious peril".

The court heard that the 46-year-old was suffering from a bad tooth, a frozen shoulder and depression.

Mr Assange only very rarely emerges on the balcony of the embassy building, citing concerns for his personal safety, but frequently takes part in media conferences and campaigns via video link.

Earlier this month, Ecuador said it had granted citizenship to Mr Assange, born in Australia, and asked Britain to recognise him as a diplomat in an unsuccessful attempt to provide him with immunity and usher him out of its embassy without the threat of arrest.

But London swiftly rejected the move.

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Court to make decision on validity of UK arrest warrant against Julian Assange

"Ecuador knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice," the British government said.

Mr Assange has strained the patience of his hosts during his long stay.

He was publicly reprimanded for interfering in the 2016 US election after publishing hacked emails from the campaign team of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

More recently, he drew the ire of Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno when he used Twitter to pump out messages of support for Catalonia's independence drive.

Moreno was forced to respond to complaints from the Spanish government.

Moreno, in office since 2017, said last month Mr Assange was an "inherited problem" that had created "more than a nuisance" for his government.

"We hope to have a positive result in the short term," Moreno said in an interview with television networks.

Speaking in January, Australian National University international law professor Don Rothwell said Mr Assange was running out of options.

"The only real options, it seems to me for Assange, are to be able to get to Ecuador by whatever means possible to him or, in fact, ultimately, to be deported to Australia, assuming that he still retains his Australian citizenship. So to that end, if that was an option that was on the table, Australia could seek to facilitate that particular process."

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