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STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden reopened a probe on Wednesday into rape allegations against Julian Assange, the founder of whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, who has infuriated the U.S. military by publishing secret documents on Afghanistan.
Assange called the rape allegations baseless and described the case against him as a "legal circus."
WikiLeaks published more than 70,000 secret military files on Afghanistan in July in what U.S. officials have called one of the biggest security breaches in U.S. military history.
A lower official had withdrawn a rape probe against Assange two weeks ago, while allowing an investigation into lesser molestation charges to continue. Assange said he had been warned by Australian intelligence that he could face a campaign to discredit him after leaking the documents.
"It appears to be highly irregular and some kind of legal circus," Assange told the TV service of tabloid newspaper Expressen. He said another, unrelated case had just been filed against him in the United States, though he gave no details.
"I was dumbfounded and concerned as to the integrity of the Swedish judicial process," he said when asked what his feelings were after the investigation was reopened.
"...I know what I have done with my life therefore I know that these accusations are baseless and disturbing," he said.
He said deliberate attempts had been made to push the case into the court of public opinion.
Director of Public Prosecutions Marianne Ny said she decided to reopen the investigation after further review of the case.
"There is reason to believe that a crime has been committed. Considering information available at present, my judgement is that the classification of the crime is rape," Ny said in a statement on the Prosecution Authority's website.
"More investigations are necessary before a final decision can be made," she added. She also said a preliminary investigation into charges of molestation would be expanded to sexual coercion and sexual molestation.
"The case has a high priority," she told Reuters. She declined to say whether Assange had already been questioned, and would not give further information.
Allegations of rape and molestation were brought against Assange, an Australian citizen, two weeks ago. The more serious charge was dropped almost immediately, though prosecutors continued to look into the molestation charge.
WikiLeaks says it is an non-profit organisation funded by human rights campaigners, journalists and the general public.
It promotes the leaking of information to fight government and corporate corruption. Earlier this year, it leaked a classified video showing a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists.
Assange has been building a base in Sweden in order to benefit from its strict journalist protection laws.
Though he has given few interviews recently, a website, www.wikileaks.org, and a Twitter feed, www.twitter.com/wikileaks, occasionally release material.
The Twitter feed said on Tuesday that Assange had applied for a Swedish residency permit as part of efforts to boost legal protection for WikiLeaks.
Additional reporting by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Peter Graff