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Galloway attacked by party leader

Respect MP George Galloway has been attacked by the leader of his own party over his controversial claim that a rape allegation against WikiLeaks campaigner Julian Assange amounted to no more than bad "sexual etiquette".

Salma Yaqoob described Mr Galloway's comments, made in a video podcast, as "deeply disappointing and wrong".

In a posting on her own website, she said the "political issues" surrounding Mr Assange's case should not be used to diminish the seriousness of the accusations against him.

"Let me be clear, as a politician and as a woman. Rape occurs when a woman has not consented to sex. George Galloway's comments on what constitutes rape are deeply disappointing and wrong," she said.

"There are many political issues entwined in the case of Julian Assange. These issues cannot be used to diminish in any way the seriousness of any allegations against him.

"Any individual accused of a crime, sexual or otherwise, is innocent until proven guilty. By the same token, any individual who believes themselves to be a victim has a right to have their grievances heard in a fair manner and not have their allegations belittled or dismissed. This is the cornerstone of justice."

The furious row in the ranks of the small, left-wing party erupted as Mr Galloway faced an angry backlash from women's groups, who said such attitudes deterred victims from reporting sexual assaults.

Earlier, the MP strongly defended his claim that the allegations made against Mr Assange by two women in Sweden did not constitute rape, even if they were proved to be true.

In a statement, he said he did not believe the authorities in Britain would have sanctioned a prosecution against Mr Assange and the allegations had "all the hallmarks of a set-up".

"No never means yes and non-consensual sex is rape. There's no doubt about it and that has always been my position. But if my remarks on the podcast need clarification I am happy to do that," he said.

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