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US seeks to reassure France over spying, Assange urges legal action

Update: June, 25/2015 - 10:58

PARIS – President Barack Obama has moved to defuse tensions after revelations of US spying on three French presidents angered France, while WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called for legal action over Washington's snooping and promised more disclosures to come.

Obama spoke by phone with his French counterpart Francois Hollande to assure him the US was no longer spying on European leaders, a day after the WikiLeaks website published documents alleging Washington had eavesdropped on the French president and his two predecessors.

"President Obama reiterated without ambiguity his firm commitment... to stop these practices that took place in the past and which were unacceptable between allies," Hollande's office said in a statement after the call.

Hollande had earlier convened his top ministers and intelligence officials to discuss the revelations, with his office stating that France "will not tolerate any acts that threaten its security".

France's foreign minister also summoned the US ambassador for a formal explanation.

The documents – labelled "Top Secret" and appearing to reveal spying on Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and Hollande between 2006 and 2012 – were published by WikiLeaks along with French newspaper Liberation and the Mediapart website.

WikiLeaks' anti-secrecy campaigner Assange told French television on Wednesday evening that the time had come for legal action against Washington over its foreign surveillance activities.

Speaking on TF1, he urged France to go further than Germany by launching a "parliamentary inquiry" and referring "the matter to the prosecutor-general for prosecution."

German prosecutors had carried out a probe into alleged US tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone, but later dropped the investigation due to a lack of hard evidence.

Assange also said other important revelations were coming.

"This is the beginning of a series and I believe the most important of the material is still to come," he said.

The WikiLeaks revelations were embarrassingly timed for French lawmakers, who late on Wednesday voted in favour of sweeping new powers to spy on citizens.

The new law will allow authorities to spy on the digital and mobile communications of anyone linked to a "terrorist" enquiry without prior authorisation from a judge, and forces internet service providers and phone companies to give up data upon request.

Addressing parliament, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Washington's snooping actions "constitute a very serious violation of the spirit of trust" and France would demand a new "code of conduct" on intelligence matters.

The White House earlier responded that it was not targeting Hollande's communications and will not do so in the future, but it did not comment on past activities.

Claims that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on European leaders, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, had already led to promises from Obama that the practice had stopped. - AFP

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