Flight carrying WikiLeaks founder Assange stops in Bangkok to refuel

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A plane carrying Julian Assange landed in Bangkok on Tuesday to refuel before flying the WikiLeaks founder to a court hearing in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory in the Pacific.

Assange, whose extradition was long sought by the United States, is being taken to face a judge as part of a plea deal expected to see him freed to return to his native Australia.

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The 52-year-old has agreed to plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to obtain and disseminate national defense information, according to a document filed in court in the Northern Mariana Islands.

A charter flight flew Assange from London, and AFP journalists saw it touch down at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport at around 12:30 pm (0530 GMT).

A senior Thai official told AFP that Assange’s name was on the passenger list.

“(The plane) is expected to refuel and resupply with water before departing at 9:00 pm for Saipan island,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He is expected to appear in court Wednesday morning local time and be sentenced to 62 months in prison, with credit for the more than five years he spent in a British jail.

Assange was accused of publishing some 700,000 confidential documents related to US military and diplomatic activities, starting in 2010.

He has been held in a high-security prison in London since 2019, after spending seven years holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in the British capital to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges that were later dropped.

WikiLeaks announced that he had been granted bail, taken from Belmarsh jail to Stansted airport, northeast of London, and put on a plane.

The plea deal ends a lengthy tussle over US attempts to extradite Assange from Britain to face charges under the 1917 Espionage Act.

The deal was not entirely unexpected. US President Joe Biden had been under growing pressure to drop the long-running case against Assange.

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