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Assange furious as autobiography hits shelves

LONDON, September 22, 2011 (AFP) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange denounced an unauthorised autobiography as it hit bookshops in Britain on Thursday, after he failed to prevent the publisher printing an unfinished manuscript.

"Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography" is the result of more than 50 hours of interviews between Assange and a ghost writer that was handed over to British publisher Canongate in March.

The company admitted Assange had tried to stop the publication but said they were proud to publish the "passionate, provocative and opinionated" book.

In a lengthy, furious statement issued late Wednesday, Assange accused Canongate of acting in breach of contract and personal assurances that it would not publish the manuscript.

"This book was meant to be about my life's struggle for justice through access to knowledge. It has turned into something else," said the 40-year-old former computer hacker.

"The events surrounding its unauthorised publication by Canongate are not about freedom of information. They are about old-fashioned opportunism and duplicity -- screwing people over to make a buck."

The book contains the Australian's first direct comments on the allegations of rape and sexual assault made against him by two women in Sweden in August last year, which have left him fighting extradition from Britain.

He also describes the thrill of hacking computers and his pride in publishing secret official information, and condemns the "apathy" of the mainstream press in holding governments and institutions to account.

He reserves particular criticism for newspapers The Guardian and The New York Times, WikiLeaks' former partners in the release of thousands of US diplomatic cables last year, saying they were sell-outs and cowards.

Assange acknowledged the book was based on conversations he had with ghost writer Andrew O'Hagan at a friend's country house in eastern England, where he is living under strict bail conditions until a court decides on his extradition.

But he said the manuscript was "entirely uncorrected or fact-checked by me", adding that O'Hagan had not seen the final edit either.

Assange agreed to the autobiography in December 2010 after being released on bail following his arrest, but tried to cancel the deal in June this year.

He says he wanted to set a new deadline, but Canongate, a small Scottish firm that beat larger rivals to sign the original deal, said: "He had already signed his advance over to his lawyers to settle his legal bills.

"We have decided to honour that contract and to publish. Once the advance has been earned out, we will continue to honour the contract and pay Julian royalties."

Assange said he was currently in a dispute with his lawyers over fees in his extradition case, adding that he was so short of cash he could not afford to block publication of the autobiography through the British courts.

In the book, Assange repeats his denial of the rape allegations and his suggestion that they may have been politically motivated due to the WikiLeaks disclosures of the US cables, as well as files on the Iraqi and Afghan wars.

"I did not rape those women and cannot imagine anything that happened between us that would make them think so, except malice after the fact, a joint plan to entrap me, or a terrifying misunderstanding that was stoked up between them," he wrote in the 250-page autobiography.

"I may be a chauvinistic pig of some sort but I am no rapist, and only a distorted version of sexual politics could attempt to turn me into one."

Raising the possibility of a conspiracy, he recounted how, when he arrived in Sweden in August 2010, he was informed by an unnamed intelligence source that the United States was planning to set him up for the release of the cables.

Assange frequently mentions the "shadowy forces" pursuing him, from his early days as a hacker to the foundation of WikiLeaks, and details the lonely days working on the website where he was broke and living out of a rucksack.

But he is convinced that what he does is right, saying that at his extradition hearings in London last year, he realised that "we were now officially up against the power of the old order, up against its assumptions, up against its power to silence people, up against its fears".


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