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Julian Assange's supporters say campaign for release on 'cusp of success'

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange create human chain around Westminster in London

By Lewis Jackson

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Supporters of Julian Assange said on Wednesday the campaign to release the Wikileaks founder is on the "cusp of success" after a concerted diplomatic push by his country, Australia, which says he has been imprisoned for too long.

Assange is being held in Britain and battling extradition to the United States where he is wanted on criminal charges over the release of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables in 2010.

Hundreds of supporters gathered at Hyde Park in Sydney for a march through the city that was originally planned to coincide with a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden, who cancelled his visit over the U.S. debt ceiling crisis.

Assange's wife, Stella Assange, travelled to Australia for the protest and told Reuters meetings with politicians in Canberra had been productive.

"What I feel intensely is a concerted effort to bring Julian home from the Australian politicians, obviously from the government and also from the Australian population," she said.

The push for Assange's release is on the "cusp of success", his father, John Shipton, told Reuters separately at the march.

Australia is backing the drive for Assange's release ahead of his extradition to the U.S. and both Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and opposition leader Peter Dutton this month said his detention had gone on too long.

Albanese, an advocate for Assange's release while in opposition, raised the case with Biden during a visit to the U.S. in November.

Australian High Commissioner to Britain Stephen Smith visited the free-speech activist in prison last month, a meeting Albanese said he had encouraged.

WikiLeaks came to prominence in 2010 when it released thousands of secret classified files and diplomatic cables in what was the largest security breach of its kind in U.S. military history.

Assange's supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimised because he exposed U.S. wrongdoing in Afghanistan and Iraq, and his prosecution is a politically motivated assault on journalism and free speech.

U.S. prosecutors and Western security officials regard him as a reckless enemy of the state whose actions imperilled the lives of agents named in the leaked material.

Stephen Kenny, a lawyer for former Australian Guantanamo detainee David Hicks, told the crowd that Assange had committed no crime.

"This is a political matter and it requires a political solution," he said.

(Reporting by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Robert Birsel)