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WikiLeaks' Assange calls end of rape case important victory

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2016 file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks from the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Sweden's top prosecutor said Friday May 19, 2017, she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2016 file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks from the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Sweden's top prosecutor said Friday May 19, 2017, she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)
A cat dressed in a collar and tie looks out from a window of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Friday May 19, 2017. Sweden's top prosecutor says she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A cat dressed in a collar and tie looks out from a window of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Friday May 19, 2017. Sweden's top prosecutor says she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A photographer stands outside of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Friday May 19, 2017. Sweden's top prosecutor says she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years. Assange took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sex-crime allegations from two women.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A photographer stands outside of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Friday May 19, 2017. Sweden's top prosecutor says she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years. Assange took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sex-crime allegations from two women. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A cat dressed in a collar and tie looks out from a window of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Friday May 19, 2017. Sweden's top prosecutor says she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A cat dressed in a collar and tie looks out from a window of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Friday May 19, 2017. Sweden's top prosecutor says she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A cat dressed in a collar and tie looks out from a window of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Friday May 19, 2017. Sweden's top prosecutor says she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A cat dressed in a collar and tie looks out from a window of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Friday May 19, 2017. Sweden's top prosecutor says she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
FILE - In this Friday, Feb. 5, 2016  file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stands on the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy to addresses waiting supporters and media in London. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has won his battle against extradition to Sweden, which wanted to question him about a rape allegation. He has spent nearly five years inside the Embassy of Ecuador in London to avoid being sent to Sweden, which announced Friday, May 19, 2017 that the investigation has been discontinued. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, file)
FILE - In this Friday, Feb. 5, 2016 file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stands on the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy to addresses waiting supporters and media in London. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has won his battle against extradition to Sweden, which wanted to question him about a rape allegation. He has spent nearly five years inside the Embassy of Ecuador in London to avoid being sent to Sweden, which announced Friday, May 19, 2017 that the investigation has been discontinued. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, file)
FILE - In this Friday, Dec. 17, 2010 file photo, Julian Assange head of WikiLeaks, takes a drink during a press conference at the home of Frontline Club founding member Vaughan Smith, at Bungay, England. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has won his battle against extradition to Sweden, which wanted to question him about a rape allegation. He has spent nearly five years inside the Embassy of Ecuador in London to avoid being sent to Sweden, which announced Friday, May 19, 2017 that the investigation has been discontinued.  (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, file)
FILE - In this Friday, Dec. 17, 2010 file photo, Julian Assange head of WikiLeaks, takes a drink during a press conference at the home of Frontline Club founding member Vaughan Smith, at Bungay, England. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has won his battle against extradition to Sweden, which wanted to question him about a rape allegation. He has spent nearly five years inside the Embassy of Ecuador in London to avoid being sent to Sweden, which announced Friday, May 19, 2017 that the investigation has been discontinued. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, file)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves the Supreme Court in London. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has won his battle against extradition to Sweden, which wanted to question him about a rape allegation. He has spent nearly five years inside the Embassy of Ecuador in London to avoid being sent to Sweden, which announced Friday, May 19, 2017 that the investigation has been discontinued. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, file)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves the Supreme Court in London. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has won his battle against extradition to Sweden, which wanted to question him about a rape allegation. He has spent nearly five years inside the Embassy of Ecuador in London to avoid being sent to Sweden, which announced Friday, May 19, 2017 that the investigation has been discontinued. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, file)
Police officers stand outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Friday May 19, 2017. Sweden's top prosecutor says she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years. Assange took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sex-crime allegations from two women. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Police officers stand outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Friday May 19, 2017. Sweden's top prosecutor says she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years. Assange took refuge in Ecuador's embassy in London in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sex-crime allegations from two women. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010 file photo, supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold posters with his photo during a protest in front of the British Embassy in Madrid, Spain. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has won his battle against extradition to Sweden, which wanted to question him about a rape allegation. He has spent nearly five years inside the Embassy of Ecuador in London to avoid being sent to Sweden, which announced Friday, May 19, 2017 that the investigation has been discontinued. (AP Photo, file)
FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010 file photo, supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hold posters with his photo during a protest in front of the British Embassy in Madrid, Spain. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has won his battle against extradition to Sweden, which wanted to question him about a rape allegation. He has spent nearly five years inside the Embassy of Ecuador in London to avoid being sent to Sweden, which announced Friday, May 19, 2017 that the investigation has been discontinued. (AP Photo, file)
FILE - In this Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010 file photo, founder of the WikiLeaks website, Julian Assange, speaks during a press conference in London. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has won his battle against extradition to Sweden, which wanted to question him about a rape allegation. He has spent nearly five years inside the Embassy of Ecuador in London to avoid being sent to Sweden, which announced Friday, May 19, 2017 that the investigation has been discontinued. (AP Photo/Lennart Preiss, file)
FILE - In this Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010 file photo, founder of the WikiLeaks website, Julian Assange, speaks during a press conference in London. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has won his battle against extradition to Sweden, which wanted to question him about a rape allegation. He has spent nearly five years inside the Embassy of Ecuador in London to avoid being sent to Sweden, which announced Friday, May 19, 2017 that the investigation has been discontinued. (AP Photo/Lennart Preiss, file)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, May 19, 2017 12:33 pm

STOCKHOLM Sweden's top prosecutor on Friday dropped an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years, saying that's because there's no possibility of arresting him "in the foreseeable future."

The announcement by prosecutor Marianne Ny means the outspoken WikiLeaks leader no longer faces sex crime allegations in Sweden, although British police said was still wanted for jumping bail in Britain in 2012.

It does not clear Assange's name, however, and some experts say it puts him into an even more precarious legal situation if the U.S. has as some suspect a sealed indictment for his arrest.

Speaking from the balcony of Ecuador's London embassy, where he took refuge in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, Assange said his seven-year legal ordeal which he called unjust detention "is not something that I can forgive."

He says his battle is not over, and "the proper war is just commencing." Assange, 45, believes the United States wants him extradited and arrested in connection with WikiLeaks' publication of classified U.S. documents.

He nonetheless called Sweden's decision to drop the rape investigation "an important victory for me and for the U.N. human rights system."

Assange has been holed up at Ecuador's embassy in London to avoid extradition to answer questions about sex-crime allegations from two women. The arrangement was necessary, he had said, to keep Swedish authorities from turning him over to the United States for his role at the helm of WikiLeaks, which has enraged governments around the world by publishing tens of thousands of leaked classified U.S. documents.

Assange said Friday his legal team would contact U.K. officials to seek a way forward in resolving his status. British police say they still intend to arrest him, if he leaves the Ecuadorean Embassy.

But London's Metropolitan Police added that Assange is now wanted for a "much less serious offense" than the original sex crimes claims, so police "will provide a level of resourcing which is proportionate to that offense."

British police kept up a round-the-clock guard outside the embassy until December 2015, when the operation was scaled back partly because of the costs, which had exceeded 11 million pounds (over $17.5 million at the time).

Assange also said he would be "happy" to discuss the case with the U.S. Department of Justice despite U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying that Assange's arrest was a priority.

"We've already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail," Sessions said last month.

U.S. President Donald Trump said last month he would support any decision by the Justice Department to charge Assange, who contends the United States should recognize his First Amendment rights as a journalist.

It's not known if U.S. officials have asked British police to arrest Assange because of a possible sealed U.S. indictment against him. A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman on Friday declined to comment on the case.

WikiLeaks tweeted after the Swedish announcement: "UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange. Focus now moves to UK."

British officials said they do not comment on individual extradition cases. British Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday that "any decision that is taken about U.K. action in relation to him (Assange) would be an operational matter for the police."

Ecuador's foreign minister, Guillaume Long, tweeted Friday that Britain "must now grant safe passage" to Assange. The South American country has granted him asylum.

At a press conference Friday in Stockholm, Ny, chief of the Swedish Prosecution Authority, said she "has decided to discontinue the investigation" and call back the European arrest warrant for Assange.

The allegations surfaced after two women accused Assange of sexual misconduct during a visit to Stockholm in 2010.

There were initially two separate allegations being investigated, but one was dropped in 2015 because the statute of limitations ran out. The rape allegation, the more serious claim, remained under investigation. Prosecutors were trying to determine, among other things, if Assange had sex with the woman while she was asleep and without using a condom.

Assange has said that all the sex was consensual.

Ny told reporters that prosecutors had been unable to make a full assessment of the case and were not making a finding on whether Assange was guilty or innocent of the allegations. She said the WikiLeaks founder had "tried to dodge all attempts at arrest" by British and Swedish authorities.

She said the case could be reopened if Assange returns to Sweden before the statute of limitations expires in 2020.

A lawyer for the woman who alleged she was raped by Assange said "it's a scandal that a suspected rapist can avoid the judicial system and thus avoid a trial in court."

Elisabeth Massi Fritz says her client is shocked by the Swedish decision but added that "she can't change her view that Assange has exposed her to a rape."

Per E. Samuelson, Assange's lawyer in Sweden, told The Associated Press that it was a "day of victory" for the WikiLeaks founder. He said Assange had convinced Swedish prosecutors during a November meeting last year that he was not guilty of any sex offenses.

"The truth is, he gave a very good explanation: this was consensual sex between two adults and nothing else. And he's a free man," Samuelson said.

Assange and WikiLeaks have repeatedly infuriated U.S. officials with the widespread release of sensitive secret documents related to military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and diplomatic relations around the world. WikiLeaks also had a provocative role in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign when it published emails written by Hillary Clinton's campaign officials.

Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning served seven years in prison for giving classified material to WikiLeaks. She was freed Wednesday, having had her sentence commuted by former President Barack Obama before he left office.

___

Katz reported from London. Jill Lawless in London, Eric Tucker in Washington and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this story.

         

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