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Agence France-Presse

Assange Hails WikiLeaks Role in Middle East Revolt


Assange said cables leaked by Wikileaks questioning US support for Tunisia's Ben Ali gave citizens the confidence to rise up - sparking a Middle East revolt.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Sunday said his site was "significantly influential" in the fall of Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, an event he said "no doubt" sparked a Middle East revolt.

Assange, 39, said cables leaked on his whistleblowing site questioning US support for Ben Ali gave citizens the confidence to rise up and influenced the decisions of surrounding nations on whether to intervene.

"It does seem to be the case that material we published through a Lebanese newspaper, Al Akhbar, was significantly influential to what happened in Tunisia," Assange told the SBS program Dateline.

"And then there's no doubt that Tunisia was the example for Egypt and Yemen and Jordan, and all the protests that have happened there," he added.

Mass protests sparked partly by poverty and unemployment erupted across Tunisia last month, resulting in Ben Ali's overthrow, while an 18-day revolt in Cairo ended 30 years of autocratic rule by Hosni Mubarak.

Similar demonstrations have taken place in Yemen and popular unrest has also flared in Jordan.

Australian-born Assange, currently awaiting a London court's decision on whether he should be extradited to Sweden to face sex assault claims, said the tide of popular discontent with autocratic regimes was "extremely gratifying".

"Yes, I've had all these troubles in London, but to see this happening elsewhere, it's worth every cent of time wasted on the other thing," the former hacker said.

In a wide-ranging interview given on the sidelines of last week's legal hearings Assange said he had cut his long hair and started wearing suits in an attempt to dim attention on him and keep the focus on his work.

He took aim at British newspaper the Guardian, claiming it breached an agreement to store a read-only back-up copy of WikiLeaks' US diplomatic cables by "squirrel(ing) away an entire copy to the New York Times".

"It stored the material on Internet-connected computer systems where the Chinese intelligence and God knows who could get it," he added of the Guardian's alleged breaches.

"And it published stories on it. And it set all this in motion without telling us."

Assange said there was "very strong" support for him in Australia but he believed his work had compromised the ruling Labor government, who he accused of being "co-opted" into giving the United States "everything it wants".

Official Australian investigations had been dropped into WikiLeaks but Assange said "under the surface... there is assistance being afforded to the United States" and he feared Canberra would extradite him there if he returned.

He said there was a "broad spectrum" of fresh cables about Australia due to be released, involving a "number of large companies and international politics".

Assange has called on Australia to support him, accusing Prime Minister Julia Gillard of condoning calls from some quarters for his death by maintaining a "diplomatic silence", especially with the US.

His release of classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and from US diplomats stationed around the world led some to call for his punishment, while others say he should be given the Nobel Peace Prize.

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