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Assange's release is delayed

A judge granted bail, but he will remain in British custody during a Swedish challenge.

LONDON - A British judge ordered Julian Assange released on 200,000 pounds ($316,000) bail Tuesday, but the WikiLeaks founder will remain in custody for at least two days after Swedish prosecutors challenged that decision.

Assange has spent a week in a British jail after his surrender to British police over a Swedish sex-crimes warrant. He denies any wrongdoing and has refused to voluntarily surrender to Sweden's request to extradite him for questioning - arguing that he could be questioned from Britain.

In a day of courtroom drama, the 39-year-old Australian was first told by a judge that he would be freed, then less than two hours later was informed that he had at least an additional 48 hours in custody.

Britain's High Court will hear the Swedish appeal, but it wasn't clear when.

"They clearly will not spare any expense to keep Mr. Assange in jail," his attorney Mark Stephens said. "This is really turning into a show trial."

Lawyer Gemma Lindfield, acting for Sweden, had asked the court to deny Assange bail, arguing Tuesday that the allegations against him were serious, that he had only weak ties to Britain, and that he had "the means and ability to abscond."

Reminding the court that it had already labeled Assange "a flight risk," she argued that "nothing has changed since last week to allay the court's fears in this regard."

She also rejected attempts to link Assange's case with the work of WikiLeaks - which last month angered U.S. officials by beginning to publish its trove of 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables.

"This is not a case about WikiLeaks, rather a case about alleged serious offenses against two women," Lindfield told the court Tuesday.

Celebrity supporters in the court - including socialite Jemima Khan and actress Bianca Jagger - and hundreds of pro-WikiLeaks demonstrators outside the building cheered at District Judge Howard Riddle's decision to grant Assange bail.

Under the ruling, Assange must wear an electronic tag, live at a specific address in southern England, report to police every evening, and observe two four-hour curfews each day in addition to putting up the bond.

Lindfield has said Assange is accused of rape, molestation, and unlawful coercion by two women for separate incidents in August in Stockholm. She said one had accused him of pinning her down and refusing to use a condom. A second woman said Assange had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep.

In Sweden, a person who has sex with an unconscious, drunk, or sleeping person can be convicted of rape and face up to six years in prison.

Assange has not been charged in Sweden. His lawyers say the allegations stem from a dispute over "consensual but unprotected sex" and argue that he has offered to make himself available for questioning via video link or in person in the United Kingdom, where Scotland Yard has facilities for foreign prosecutors to quiz people.

Several wealthy supporters - including filmmaker Michael Moore - have put up a total of $380,000 as a guarantee for Assange, his attorneys said.

Vaughan Smith, founder of the Frontline Club - a restaurant and forum for journalists - told the court Tuesday that Assange was misunderstood. Under terms of bail, Assange would be ordered to live at Ellingham Hall, Smith's 10-bedroom country mansion in Suffolk, southeastern England.

Assange's next court appearance was set for Jan. 11, ahead of a full hearing Feb. 7 and 8.