- - Sunday, August 19, 2012

LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called on President Obama to end a so-called “witch hunt” against his secret-spilling website, appearing in public Sunday for the first time since he took refuge two months ago inside Ecuadorean Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex-crimes allegations.

The 41-year-old Australian, who has fought for two years against efforts to send him to Sweden for questioning over accusations of sexual misconduct against two women there, addressed a crowd of more than 200 supporters, reporters and dozens of British police, as he spoke from the balcony of Ecuador’s mission.

Ecuador on Thursday granted Mr. Assange asylum, and he remains out of reach of British authorities while he is inside the country’s small embassy.

Britain insists that if he steps outside, he will be detained and sent to Sweden.

Mr. Assange and his supporters claim the Swedish case is merely the opening gambit in a Washington-orchestrated plot to make him stand trial in the U.S. over his work with WikiLeaks — something disputed by both Swedish authorities and the women involved.

On Saturday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Obama administration considers Mr. Assange a matter for the governments of Britain, Sweden and Ecuador to resolve.

A Virginia grand jury is studying evidence that might link Assange to Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been charged with aiding the enemy by passing the secret files to WikiLeaks and is awaiting trial. No action against Mr. Assange has been taken.

ITALY

Pope: Orthodox-Catholic meeting raises hope

CASTEL GANDOLFO — Pope Benedict XVI has hailed as an important step a meeting in Poland between the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and Poland’s Catholic hierarchy.

Poland and Russia have feuded for centuries, and their ties are marked by distrust.

Benedict praised the goodwill efforts by Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and Archbishop Jozef Michalik, who met in a ceremony in Warsaw on Friday.

The pope, speaking to Polish pilgrims at his summer residence near Rome on Sunday, said both sides declared their desire to work together to spread evangelical values.

The Russian Orthodox Church has accused the Vatican of poaching for converts in Russia. Those tensions prevented Pope John Paul II from visiting Russia.

RUSSIA

Bomber at funeral kills 7 policemen

ROSTOV-ON-DON — A suicide bomber blew himself up as police in southern Russia gathered Sunday for the funeral of a slain colleague, killing at least seven of the police officers and badly wounding 12 other people, investigators said.

The funeral was held at the home of an officer who had been fatally shot the night before by militants in Ingushetia, one of the predominantly Muslim republics in Russia’s restive North Caucasus region.

In the nearby republic of Dagestan, two masked gunmen burst into a Shiite mosque during Saturday evening prayers and opened fire, wounding eight people, police said.

Shiites are a minority in Dagestan and throughout the North Caucasus, where an Islamic insurgency has raged for years.

The latest attacks took place as Muslims in Russia and around the world prepared for the feast that celebrates the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Police investigating the shooting at the mosque in the city of Khasavyurt found a large homemade bomb and were able to defuse it Sunday morning, Dagestan police spokesman Vyacheslav Gasanov said.

Militants often have rigged explosives to go off as police respond to a shooting or other attack.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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