Assange to appear in London court today

WikiLeaks founder, 39-year old Julian Assange appears before Westminster magistrates in London today kicking off his fight against extradition to Sweden and to seek his release on bail.

Assange has been held in solitary confinement since Thursday, supposedly for his own protection, as a grand jury in the US state of Virginia meets in an attempt to trump up espionage charges against him, his lawyer, Mark Stephens, told Al Jazeera's David Frost over the weekend.

Stephens said he'd heard from Swedish authorities that they "will defer their interest in him to the Americans. It does seem to me that what we have here is nothing more than a holding charge," he added.

Assange has not yet been charged with anything at all but is wanted for questioning over allegations that he sexually assaulted two women in Sweden.The Swedish authorities are seeking Assange's extradition under a European arrest warrant.

Assange's appearance in court is likely to be brief. He'll ask for bail, and the judge will have to ponder and either grant the request or not. If the judge agrees, the Crown Prosecution Service, acting on behalf of the Swedish authorities, will appeal against the decision. Any appeal is likely to be heard within 48 hours.

Assange was remanded in custody despite the backing of such luminaries as film director Ken Loach, journalist John Pilger, and posh totty Jemima Khan offering sureties for him totalling £180,000.

The judge decided there was a substantial risk that Assange would fail to turn up in court, despite his having becoming one of the best-known faces on the planet.

Protesters are already gathering outside Westminster Magistrates Court to make their feelings known, and a Ballad of Julian Assange has appeared on YouTube.