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UPDATE 1-Julian Assange appears in London court for sentencing over breaking bail

Michael Holden


* Julian Assange to be sentenced for skipping bail

* Assange's lawyer: he feared extradition to United States

* Assange was convicted last month

* United States has requested Assange's extradition (Adds details from court)

LONDON, May 1 (Reuters) - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared in a London court on Wednesday to be sentenced for breaking bail to enter the Ecuadorean embassy seven years ago.

Assange, who was dragged out of the embassy last month and charged by the United States for one of the biggest ever leaks of classified information, wore a black jacket over a grey sweatshirt.

Appearing before Southwark Crown Court, Assange confirmed his name and sipped water from a plastic cup.

He was convicted last month of skipping bail in 2012 after an extradition order to Sweden over an allegation of rape. The maximum sentence is a year in jail.

"I apologise unreservedly to those who consider I have disrespected them by the way I have pursued my case," Assange said in a letter that was read to the court by his lawyer, Mark Summers.

"I found myself struggling with terrifying circumstances. I did at the time what I thought was best."

Summers told the court that Assange had "strongly held fears" in 2012 that he would be sent from Sweden to the United States and ultimately to the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.

Summers cited the arrest and treatment of Chelsea Manning, a U.S. Army soldier who served seven years in military prison for leaking classified data while she was working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.

Just hours after Assange was removed from the Ecuadorean embassy on April 11, U.S. prosecutors said they had charged Assange with conspiracy in trying to access a classified U.S. government computer with Manning in 2010.

Assange's lawyer said Manning, who is transgender, had been subjected to sleep deprivation and forced to parade naked in front of military personnel.

WikiLeaks angered Washington by publishing hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables that laid bare often highly critical U.S. appraisals of world leaders, from Russian President Vladimir Putin to members of the Saudi royal family.

Assange made international headlines in early 2010 when WikiLeaks published a classified U.S. military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.

To some, Assange is a hero for exposing what supporters cast as abuse of power by modern states and for championing free speech. But to others, he is a dangerous rebel who has undermined U.S. security. (Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)