LONDON - Julian Assange and his supporters warily welcomed a surprise U-turn Friday by Swedish prosecutors, who now say they are willing to come to London to quiz the WikiLeaks founder over alleged sex crimes.
The reversal, however, doesn't mean the anti-secrecy activist will soon be leaving the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, his home and prison for almost three years.
Since 2010, Swedish prosecutors have sought to question Assange over sex allegations made by two women. Assange fought extradition through the British courts and, when that failed, holed up inside Ecuador's diplomatic mission. British police stand guard, ready to arrest him if he steps outside.
Assange denies the allegations, and believes extradition to Sweden is a first step in efforts to remove him to the U.S., where WikiLeaks infuriated officials by publishing secret documents, including 250,000 State Department cables. Former U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year sentence for passing those documents to WikiLeaks and a U.S. investigation is ongoing.
On Friday, Swedish prosecutors reversed their refusal to question Assange in London, citing the five-year statute of limitations on some of the allegations.
One of Assange's defense lawyers, Per Samuelson, called the about-face "a great victory for Julian Assange," and indicated the 43-year-old Australian would likely agree to be questioned.
Lead Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny said the looming deadline had prompted her change of mind. It was unclear how soon a prosecutor could come to London.