Putin leads support for Assange

VLADIMIR Putin has led growing support from some world leaders for the beleaguered WikiLeaks founder, describing his detention in Britain as “undemocratic”.

The wave of support for Julian Assange, currently in a British jail as Sweden seeks his extradition on rape charges, came as hackers – dubbed “hack-tivists” – stepped up cyber attacks on those opposed to WikiLeaks.

But after taking down the websites of Visa, Mastercard and others, supporters of the whistleblower website tried but failed to knock online retail giant Amazon.com offline.

The loose-knit group of hackers known as “Anonymous” said they would attack the Amazon website as part of what they are call “Operation Payback.”

But the Amazon.com website did not appear to have experienced any downtime, and Anonymous acknowledged defeat on another Twitter feed.

“Okay, we have changed our target – the Hive isn’t big enough to attack Amazon,” a message posted on AnonOpsNet said, instructing supporters to switch their cyber attacks to the website of internet payments company PayPal.

Russian Prime Minister Putin railed against the detention of the 39-year-old Mr Assange, the Australian founder of the website which has been releasing thousands of secret US diplomatic cables as well as Pentagon communiques.

“Why was Mr Assange hidden in jail? Is that democracy? As we say in the village: the pot is calling the kettle black,” Mr Putin said.

“I want to send the ball back to our American colleagues.”

Despite his defence of Mr Assange, Mr Putin was portrayed in an embarrassing light by some of the leaked cables. In one, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called him a “behind the scenes puppeteer” dissatisfied with his role.

Others detailed allegations of high-level Russian corruption and referred to Mr Putin as an “alpha dog”.

His comments echoed Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who expressed “solidarity” with Mr Assange, blasting the Australian activist’s arrest as a blow against “freedom of expression”.

Mr Assange has “exposed a diplomacy that had appeared unreachable,” said Lula.

“They have arrested him and I don’t hear so much as a single protest for freedom of expression,” he said.

Meanwhile, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, hit out at pressure being exerted on “private companies, banks and credit card companies” to cut commercial ties to WikiLeaks.

“They could be interpreted as an attempt to censor the publication of information, thus potentially violating WikiLeaks’ right to freedom of expression,” she told a press conference in Geneva.

Anonymous told AFP in an online chat they would attack anyone they perceive as having an “anti-WikiLeaks agenda”.

The Swedish government’s website was forced offline as was the office of the Swedish prosecutor.

But WikiLeaks distanced itself from the group in a statement, saying it had no affiliation with Anonymous.

“There has been no contact between any WikiLeaks staffer and anyone at Anonymous. WikiLeaks has not received any prior notice of any of Anonymous’ actions,” the website said in a statement.

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said in the statement: “We neither condemn nor applaud these attacks. We believe they are a reflection of public opinion on the actions of the targets”.

PayPal said meanwhile it was releasing all of the remaining funds in an account set up to raise money for WikiLeaks, but it would no longer accept donations for the site.

Members of Anonymous also took aim yesterday at the websites of US conservative standard bearer Sarah Palin and US Senator Joe Lieberman, who called for US companies to withdraw technical support for WikiLeaks.

Assange’s supporters have vowed the arrest will not halt the flow of secrets, with the latest revelations causing more embarrassment for Washington.

The most explosive came in an assessment by Johnnie Carson, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, who illustrated the tensions caused by China’s increasing involvement in resource-rich Africa.

And one leaked cable overnight said Serbia in 2008 knew the whereabouts of top fugitive genocide suspect Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic.

According to the cables released by WikiLeaks and published by The New York Times, a Spanish diplomat in the Balkans, Ramon Abaroa, claimed in 2008 that Serbia “knows perfectly well where Mladic is.”

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