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Australia braces for its own WikiLeaks damage control

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard lambasted WikiLeaks on Thursday as the government braced itself for the publication of 1,500 diplomatic cables relating to Australia.

By Kathy MarksCorrespondent / December 2, 2010

In this Oct. 23 file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, speaks during a news conference in London. Australian prime minister Julia Gillard blasted WikiLeaks' release of diplomatic cables regarding her country.

Lennart Preiss/AP Photo/File

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Sydney

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard lambasted the leaking of classified US documents as “grossly irresponsible” and “illegal” Thursday as the government braced itself for the publication of 1,500 diplomatic cables relating to Australia.

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Ms. Gillard told 4BC Radio that Australian security officials were combing through the documents – released via the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks – to assess the implications. “I absolutely condemn the placement of this information on the WikiLeaks website,” she said. “It’s a grossly irresponsible thing to do, and an illegal thing to do.”

The fall-out from “Cablegate” is being watched with particular interest in Australia, birthplace of the website’s founder, Julian Assange, although the country itself – a close ally of the United States – has not yet figured prominently in the documents.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich has briefed Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith on 1,500 cables that mention Australia. While their contents have yet to be divulged, one political commentator, David Penberthy, says they would be of considerable interest if they related to Australia’s military role in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The leaks story has received extensive coverage in Australia, with Mr. Assange’s nationality – he was born in Queensland and studied at the University of Melbourne – giving it extra punch. His mother, Christine, who recently moved back to Queensland to escape media scrutiny, gave two interviews this week before going to ground.

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