A judge on Friday rejected a request by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's lawyers for postponing until March the case in which their client is fighting extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault brought by two women he met in Stockholm last August.

The postponement was sought on grounds that Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeld's reportedly “hostile'' remarks about the case had created a “toxic atmosphere'' which could damage Mr. Assange's chance of a fair trial if he was extradited.

District Judge Howard Riddle, however, ruled that there was a need for “an element of finality” and said the court would reconvene on February 24 when a verdict is expected.

As the hearing resumed after a two-day recess, Mr. Assange's attorney Geoffrey Robertson claimed that Mr. Reinfeld's remarks showed “complete contempt for the presumption of innocence”.

Enemy no.1

“Mr. Assange is public enemy number one as a result of the prime minister's statement,” he said.

In his remarks, Mr. Reinfeld had criticised Mr. Assange's defence team for its attack on Sweden's legal system .

Mr. Robertson said: “The real evil of this outburst is not that he [Reinfeldt] will have an effect on these proceedings, but in a small country — Sweden has only 9 million people — it has created a toxic atmosphere.”

Clare Montgomery, representing the Swedish government, complained that Mr. Assange and his lawyers had routinely attacked Sweden's legal system, and those who fanned the flames “can't be too surprised when they get burnt” .

Mr. Assange has described the case as politically motivated voicing fear that if he is sent to Sweden he could in turn be handed over to Americans who want to prosecute him for leaking thousands of classified government documents.

Keywords: WikiLeaks

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