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Spain warns EU about cyber-meddling suspicions in Catalonia

An independence flag is waved as demonstrators take part at a protest calling for the release of Catalan jailed politicians, in Barcelona, Spain, on Saturday, Nov 11, 2017. Eight members of the now-defunct Catalan government remain jailed in a related rebellion case. Former regional president Carles Puigdemont and four other ex-cabinet members fled to Belgium where they are fighting extradition. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
November 13, 2017 - 6:19 AM

BRUSSELS - Spain on Monday warned its European Union partners about a disinformation campaign aimed at destabilizing its volatile northeast region of Catalonia, which Madrid claims appears to be coming from Russia.

Spanish Defence Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal told reporters that "many of the actions come from Russian territory," but that it's not yet possible to determine what their exact source is or if the Russian government is involved.

She said some of them are "repeated from Venezuelan territory."

The Spanish government took control of Catalonia's powers and called a snap regional election for Dec. 21, after the Catalan government held a banned independence referendum on Oct. 1.

Several regional government ministers have been jailed, and the region's ousted leader, Carles Puigdemont, is in Brussels with four associates fighting extradition to Spain for trial. They could face up to 30 years in prison on charges of rebellion, sedition and extortion.

De Cospedal declined to guess what impact the disinformation might be having on the election campaign or how big the fake news campaign might be.

She said the number "is changing every day. The figure cannot be specified."

Earlier, referring to a recent London meeting between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and a prominent Catalan pro-independence figure, Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said there were signs that Assange and others "are trying to interfere and manipulate" amid the Catalonia crisis.

Spain said last week that the signs don't necessarily mean the Russian government is involved, and it hasn't made public any evidence to back the interference claim.

The EU's strategic communications unit — the East StratCom Task Force — has recently reported several instances of disinformation coming from Russian news outlets linked to the Kremlin.

An analysis last month on the Russian talk show Vesti Nedeli said that the view from some Russian television stations is that Europe is "falling apart" and that Spain is being compared to Ukraine, whose Crimean Peninsula was annexed by Russian troops in 2014.

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Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this report.

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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