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Wikileaks' Assange to reenter the fray

Embattled leaker to face Times man

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Julian Assange will step back onto the public stage this week with an appearance in London.

Wikileaks' spokesman and de facto leader is scheduled to speak on Thursday at City University. He will debate the rights and wrongs of the whistleblowing site's release of tens of thousands of frontline intelligence reports from Afganistan with Times columnist David Aaronovitch.

The appearance comes after several weeks of relative quiet for a man whose fame now arguably exceeds that of any disclosure so far made by Wikileaks.

Over a tumultuous summer he was at the centre of international controversies over the arrest of a US military intelligence specialist, the release of the Afganistan files, and claims of molestation and rape made against him by two Swedish women. Assange denies the allegations, which remain under investigation.

The pressure has prompted internal division within Wikileaks. Over the weekend, Daniel Schmitt, the site's German spokesman, announced his withdrawal, citing conflict with Assange over strategy and style. Schmitt had also called for Assange to temporarily step aside to deal with the allegations against him in Sweden.

"Julian Assange has reacted to each criticism with the accusation that I was refusing to obey and disloyal to the project," Schmitt told Spiegel.

"Four weeks ago he suspended me - a single person as prosecutor, judge and executioner."

Even without such controversial background, the debate on Thursday should prove an interesting clash. Aaronovitch is author of Voodoo Histories, a book debunking many of the web's most-repeated conspiracy theories. Assange meanwhile perceives shadowy forces working against him, including over the rape allegations, which he has attributed to "dirty tricks" by enemies such as the Pentagon.

The Register understands that Assange plans to appear in person, despite suggestions he could be arrested by British police on behalf of the US. Details of the event are here. ®

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