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Pressure builds on WikiLeaks founder

STOCKHOLM, Dec 3 – Sweden said on Thursday it would issue a fresh arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, while US senators unveiled a bill aimed at punishing him and his whistleblowing website.

Freshly released State Department cables confirmed US concerns about President Hamid Karzai and the pervasiveness of corruption in Afghanistan, where some 100,000 US troops are stationed to fight the Taliban.

In one cable, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said Karzai may be "paranoid" as he often inquired about conspiracy theories in which the United States was said to be working to undermine him or to weaken Afghanistan or Pakistan.

After the Supreme Court in Stockholm refused to hear an appeal by Assange against the initial warrant over allegations of rape and molestation, Swedish police said they would issue a new one as a result of a procedural error.

"It\’s a procedural fault," Tommy Kangasvieri of the Swedish National Criminal Police told AFP. "The prosecutor Marianne Ny has to write a new one."

While Assange has not been seen in public since WikiLeaks began leaking around 250,000 cables on Sunday, his London-based lawyer Mark Stephens denied he was on the run.

"Scotland Yard knows where he is, the security services from a number of countries know where he is," Stephens told AFP.

While the elusive whistleblower laid low, a group of US senators introduced legislation that would make it illegal to publish the names of informants serving the US military and intelligence community.

The legislation, which would amend the US Espionage Act aimed at punishing the disclosure of secret information, could help to stop such leaks from happening again.

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But American legal experts have said the path to prosecution is strewn with potential legal complications, including free speech protections under the First Amendment of the US constitution.

Britain\’s Guardian newspaper followed up on earlier WikiLeaks revelations by reporting Thursday that the CIA had asked US diplomats to gather information on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other senior UN figures.

The United States came under fire after WikiLeaks documents released on Sunday showed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had asked American diplomats at the UN to seek intelligence about Ban.

The July 31, 2009 cable requested information about the UN leader\’s stance on Iran and the Middle East and his "management and decision-making style."

According to The Guardian, the CIA drew up the "wish list" of information and passed it on to the State Department, which then distributed tailored requests to its diplomats around the world.

The wish list is created annually by the manager of Humanint (human intelligence), a post created in 2005 by the administration of then-president George W. Bush to aid with intelligence co-ordination, the daily said.

Some of the most eye-catching of the latest revelations centred on Russia with one memo quoting a Spanish prosecutor describing it as a virtual "mafia state" whose political parties operate "hand in hand" with organised crime.

Jose Gonzalez, who has been investigating Russian organised crime in Spain for a decade, also agreed with poisoned dissident Alexander Litvinenko\’s thesis that Russian intelligence and security services "owned organised crime."

The cables have also quoted Defense Secretary Robert Gates as saying "Russian democracy has disappeared" and describing President Dmitry Medvedev as "Robin" to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin\’s "Batman."

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In an interview with CNN, Putin said Gates was "deeply misled" and warned US officials not to "interfere" in Russia\’s internal politics.

As the leaks piled on embarrassment for his administration, President Barack Obama named Russell Travers, an anti-terrorism expert, to lead efforts to mitigate the damage and prevent future illegal data disclosures.

Assange\’s Stockholm-based lawyer Bjoern Hurtig told AFP Thursday he would fight his client\’s extradition to Sweden in the event of his arrest, while the fugitive\’s mother expressed fear for her son\’s safety.

"I\’m concerned it\’s gotten too big and the forces that he\’s challenging are too big," Christine Assange told the Courier Mail, her local newspaper in Queensland, Australia.

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