Britain's top court dismisses Assange appeal bid

Britain's Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an application by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes.

The decision means the 40-year-old Australian creator of the whistleblowing website has exhausted all his legal options in Britain, although he could still take his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.

Seven Supreme Court justices unanimously dismissed the application by Assange's lawyers as being "without merit", Britain's highest court said in a statement.

The court said extradition proceedings against the former computer hacker could not begin for two weeks.

"The Court has ordered that... the required period for extradition shall not commence until the 14th day after today," it said.

Assange's lawyers now have until June 28 to apply to the Strasbourg court to consider his case on the basis that he has not had a fair hearing from the British courts.

It is then up to the European court to decide whether or not to postpone extradition while another hearing goes ahead.

The court has the power to issue a direction to the British government that he should not be surrendered to Sweden if it decides to consider his claim.

If it decides not to use this power, British authorities must send Assange to Sweden within 10 days.

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court rejected Assange's appeal against extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors want to question him about claims of rape and sexual assault made by two female WikiLeaks volunteers.

The judges rejected Assange's argument that the Swedish prosecutor who issued the European arrest warrant for him was not qualified to do so.

But in a surprise move, Assange's lawyers lodged an application to reopen the case, on the grounds that the Supreme Court's decision was based on a legal point that had not been argued in court.

Assange, whose website has published thousands of leaked US diplomatic cables that embarrassed governments, claims the sex in Sweden was consensual and insists the allegations against him are politically motivated.

He has said he fears his extradition would eventually lead to his transfer to the United States, where US soldier Bradley Manning is facing a trial over accusations that he handed documents to WikiLeaks.

The Swedish lawyer for Assange's accusers said last month he was confident he would be extradited there eventually.

Claes Borgstroem told AFP that although Assange was at present wanted for questioning over the allegations of rape and sexual assault, he expected an indictment perhaps within a month of him arriving in Sweden.

Since his arrest in London in December 2010, Assange has been living under tight restrictions on his movement, including wearing an ankle tag and reporting daily to police.

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