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News Wrap: WikiLeaks Founder Granted Bail; Fire in Bangladesh Kills 27

December 14, 2010 at 4:12 PM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: A judge in Britain today granted bail to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but prosecutors are challenging that decision on behalf of Sweden. Assange has spent the past week in jail after surrendering in a Swedish sex crimes investigation, although he denies the charges.

We have a report from Paul Davies of Independent Television News.

PAUL DAVIES: The photographers were waiting outside court for a glimpse of the man who has embarrassed the most powerful governments in the world.

In the back of his prison van, Julian Assange seemed to be giving them a signal, that he wouldn’t be silenced or locked away for long. Once again, it seemed the eyes of the world were watching as the legal team representing the WikiLeaks founder arrived, along with a string of celebrity supporters, like Jemima Khan, who had agreed to put up part of 240,000 pounds in guarantees and sureties to achieve his release on bail.

At first, it seemed those who turned out to support him would be celebrating, as the court reversed its original decision and agreed to grant him bail, on a string of conditions.

On top of the surety put up by his friends and supporters, Mr. Assange had agreed to wear an electronic tag and to report daily to a police station to live at the home of one of his supporters and observe a curfew.

His celebrity backers were delighted.

BIANCA JAGGER, Assange supporter: Indeed, it presents a better picture of British justice. And, as a British citizen, I look forward to it, a just and fair trial, and where due process is respected.

PAUL DAVIES: But, as time passed, it wasn’t Assange who appeared outside court, but his lawyer, explaining that it was proving difficult at short notice to provide the court with so much money.

MARK STEPHENS, attorney for Julian Assange: There is a problem, because he’s been granted bail on condition that 200,000 pounds cash is paid into this court here. That’s an awful lot of money. And it’s a pity that he can’t use MasterCard or Visa in order to assist him to arrange that.

PAUL DAVIES: This prison van taking him back to Wandsworth Prison, the sight Julian Assange’s supporters didn’t want to see.

The Swedish authorities, who still want to talk to him about alleged sex offenses, have appealed against the decision to give him bail. It means another date in court and at least one more night in a cell.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Britain’s high court will hear Sweden’s appeal, but there was no immediate word on when that will happen.

A fire ripped through a garment factory in Bangladesh today, killing at least 27 people and wounding more than 100. The blaze started in the top two floors of a 10-story factory. Workers were trapped because a gate on a stairwell was locked. Many of the victims were killed after they jumped out of windows to try and escape the flames.

The factory is owned by the Ha-Meem Group, which makes clothing for Western shops, including Gap.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi survived a vote of confidence from Parliament, but barely. He won back-to-back confidence votes, but only by three votes in the lower house. As lawmakers cast their votes, anti-Berlusconi protesters clashed with riot police in the streets of Rome. They smashed shop windows and set cars on fire. More than 100 people were injured.

The U.S. Senate neared final approval today on an $858 billion tax cut package. The deal was negotiated by President Obama and congressional Republicans. It will renew Bush era income tax breaks for another two years, and extend unemployment benefits through 2011. Once approved, the bill goes to the House, where Democrats are weighing possible changes, especially to the estate tax.

GOP Chairman Michael Steele will seek a second term as head of the Republican National Committee. He made the announcement last night during a conference call to committee members. During his first term, Steele has faced allegations of financial mismanagement. Five other candidates are running for the post, and all have vowed to put the committee’s finances back in order. The RNC will select its new chairman next month.

A blast of arctic air invaded the Eastern U.S. today and pushed bitter cold temperatures as far south as Florida. The storm system moved over the Great Lakes into Canada, then dumped more snow in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. Residents across the South bundled up against the cold. And Florida’s citrus groves were also under a hard freeze warning. Farmers sprayed the crops for protection. At least 16 deaths have been attributed to the storm.

Policy-makers at the Federal Reserve announced they will stick with a plan to buy $600 billion of Treasury bonds to spur economic growth. That decision sent stocks on Wall Street higher. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 48 points to close at 11476. The Nasdaq rose nearly three points to close above 2627.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.