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ASSANGE EXTRADITION FIGHT

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Ecuador recalls envoy to discuss Assange

Ecuador on Friday recalled its ambassador to Britain to discuss the political asylum application filed by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange this week.

“We are calling our ambassador back for consultations because this is a very serious matter,” President Rafael Correa said.

Assange, an Australian national, sought refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy on Tuesday and asked Quito to give him asylum as he seeks to avoid extradition to

Sweden on allegations of rape, fearing Stockholm will turn him over to the United States.

WikiLeaks enraged Washington by releasing a flood of classified US information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables that embarrassed a slew of governments.

“We are going to proceed cautiously, responsibly and seriously in this case, without bowing to absolutely any pressure,” Correa said.

Ecuador’s ambassador Ana Alban met with British authorities on Wednesday, and Correa said they had had a “very courteous communication” on London’s “point of view.”

“We will take it into account, but Ecuador will make the final decision” on whether to grant Assange’s request, he added.

“He says his life is in danger if he is extradited to the United States where they have the death penalty for political crimes,” Correa said. “He says this is political persecution and that the charges against him are a hoax.”

Assange, a former computer hacker, told Australia’s ABC radio Friday of his fears that he would end up in the hands of the United States, which he says wants to try him for divulging US secrets.

But he conceded there was no current US indictment against him.

“Of course not, at the moment the matter is before the grand jury,” he told ABC. “Until it comes out of the grand jury there will not be such evidence

afforded.”

Correa, who has often been at odds with Washington, appeared to agree with Assange that the charges of rape and sexual assault he faces in Sweden had little substance.

“They are pretty dubious, to say the least,” he said, arguing that “no-one was violated, assaulted against their will, or abused.”

“This was a consensual relationship, but in Sweden it is considered rape if proper protection is not used, and you don’t say that you are not using protection. But otherwise this was a consenting relationship with two women.”

Correa stressed however that his comments did not prejudge what Ecuador’s decision would be on Assange’s request for asylum.

“We will make a decision at the right moment, and it will be a sovereign decision. Ecuador is not for sale, we won’t negotiate away our rights to grant asylum or not to any of the citizens of the world.”

Assange has said he chose Ecuador’s embassy instead of that of his home country’s because he felt Canberra had done nothing to protect him, a charge the government has denied.

“There are serious issues here, and they are being hidden by the slimy rhetoric coming out of the US ambassador to Australia, via (Australian Prime Minister Julia) Gillard… and that needs to stop,” said Assange.

Assange will remain inside the embassy while Ecuador considers his request, a process that could take “hours or days,” a spokesman for the whistleblower website said Thursday.

Britain’s Supreme Court last week threw out Assange’s application to reopen his appeal against extradition to Sweden after a marathon legal battle.

He has until June 28th to lodge an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, after which the extradition process can begin.

Assange is on £200,000 ($315,000) bail, put up by celebrity supporters including filmmaker Ken Loach and Jemima Khan, the former wife of Pakistan cricket captain turned politician Imran Khan.

The asylum bid is the most dramatic twist yet in a case dating back to December 2010, when Assange was first detained in London on a European arrest warrant.

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INTERVIEW: ‘It’s a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated’

Michael Lindgren, the comedian and producer behind the new Swedish TV quiz show Invandrare för Svenskar, or "Immigrants for Swedes', tells The Local how the seemingly superficial game show is actually very serious indeed.

INTERVIEW: 'It's a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated'

SVT’s new gameshow Invandrare för Svenskar (IFS) began with a simple image on a computer. 

“I wanted to do something to show the simple fact that the category of invandrare [immigrant] is a really stupid category,” says Michael Lindgren, the co-founder of the Swedish comedy group Grotesco, and creator of Invandare för Svenskar

“I was just playing around with pictures of people with different values and professions and personalities to like, show the multitude of humanity, and then I placed an ethnic Swede in the middle and I built a block of people with different backgrounds around that blonde person. and I was thinking it would be fun to put a Swede in the minority.” 

It was only when a friend pointed out that the image he had made looked like the famous quiz game Hollywood Squares, a big 1980s hit in Sweden as Prat i kvadrat, that the idea to turn the image into a game show came about. 

Shortly afterwards, he contacted the show’s host, the comedian Ahmed Berhan, and began working with him and some of the other celebrities with immigrant backgrounds on the concept. 

The panelists on Invandrare för Svenskar.
 

Critics in Sweden are divided over the new gameshow, in which ordinary Swedes have to guess whether celebrity immigrants are lying or telling the truth about their home cultures. 

Karolina Fjellborg, at Aftonbladet, called it a “potential flop”, which was “forced and painfully shallow”. 

“And yet her paper, Aftonbladet, has written about it several times!” Lindgren exclaims when I mention this.  “Some people think it’s too stupid and glossy. It’s had rave reviews and very critical reviews, which I think is perfect.” 

He rejects the charge that the show treats a serious subject in too frivolous a way. 

“I’m an entertainer. I work in comedy. Of course, it’s superficial,” he says. “It’s a glossy game show on the surface, but underneath it’s a way to jokingly address the fact that we still think in these categories, that Sweden is a very segregated society, and we need to address that with more honesty.”

“The other point is that the idea of ‘immigrants’ as a group is absurd. It’s not a homogenous group. I think Swedes need to be faced with that, that the category is false. ‘Immigrants’ is useful as a statistical category, meaning people who actually migrated here. Most panelists in the show are born in Sweden, but Swedes tend to see them as immigrants anyway. For how many generations?”

He says his favourite moments in the show come when the contestants are nervous that they might give an answer that reveals them as prejudiced, and you can feel a slight tension, or the few moments when they do make an embarrassing mistake. 

Even though the atmosphere is deliberately kept as warm and light-hearted as possible, it’s these flashes of awkwardness, he feels, that reveal how uncomfortable many people in Sweden are about ethnic and cultural differences. 

It’s clearly something he thinks about a lot. Unlike immigration to countries like the UK or France, which are the result of long histories of empire, he argues, the immigration to Sweden, at least since the 1970s, has been driven by a sense of Lutheran guilt at the wealth the country amassed as a result of remaining neutral in the Second World War. 

Immigration, he argues, happened too quickly for the ordinary Swedish population to really understand the cultures of those arriving. 

Michael Lindgren, founder of ”IFS-invandrare för svenskar”. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
 
“I like to see Sweden as a little bit like The Shire in The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “It is located up in the corner of the map, peaceful and quite, with a very homogenous, old, peasant population. Historically shielded from the big world outside. Immigration is fairly new to Sweden, from outside Europe basically from the seventies onward, that is just fifty years ago. In what was in large part a political project from above.”
 
“And there is a discrepancy, because the majority population is still that old peasant population, and we didn’t learn a lot about the people coming here. We’re polite and friendly, but culturally very reserved, and I think that’s also about the climate, we don’t intermingle a lot. We don’t invite people into our homes easily.” 

According to Lindgren, the reception of the show has been great. Some of the show’s panel have a big following among Swedes with immigrant backgrounds, meaning it is drawing a demographic to Sweden’s public broadcaster that it normally struggles to reach. 

“The ambition is that the primary audience for this show is Swedes with mixed backgrounds, Swedes with a background in another country,” he says. “It’s a very tough demographic to reach. It’s a demographic that simply doesn’t watch public service, because it’s usually not made for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” 

He has plans for the next series to include short factual segments. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna make it serious. It’s supposed to be fun and jokey and entertaining and light, and I’m not going to change it in its core,” he says. “But I think it would add to the entertainment and variety to pause maybe twice in the show and say ‘this is actually true’, just stay at a point of discussion for 30 seconds, and maybe have a graphic to back it up.” 

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