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Austria, Switzerland probe suspected espionage in Iran nuclear talks

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(CNN)-Swiss and Austrian authorities are investigating claims of potential espionage during recent nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, including the United States, officials from each nation said Thursday.

The investigations started after Russian Internet security firm Kaspersky Lab said this week that it had uncovered a sophisticated cyberespionage weapon in use around the world, and specifically targeting hotels that hosted the nuclear talks.

An Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman, Karl-Heinz Grundböck, would give no further details but said “all relevant locations” are being investigated.

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland said it had “opened criminal proceedings against persons unknown on suspicion of political espionage.”

A house was searched May 12 in Geneva, it said, “and IT hardware as well as software has been seized. The aim of the aforementioned house search was to seize respective information as well as the malware; it was of particular interest to investigate whether the malware infected the respective IT systems.”

Neither country has said who it believes to be behind the suspected espionage.

Kaspersky Lab said the attacks involved a virus dubbed Duqu 2.0, which exploits software vulnerabilities to infiltrate and gather information.

Based on the sophistication, it’s clear the virus was part of a state-sponsored attack, said David Emm, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

So who was behind it?

“Trying to specifically say which government might be involved is impossible,” Emm said.

Even if the evidence seems to point toward one country, he said, that doesn’t mean it’s accurate.

“It is so easy for an attacker to leave false flags, if you like, to set a false trail of breadcrumbs leading to somebody else’s door,” he said.

Minister: ‘No basis’ to claims Israel is involved

An earlier version of the Duqu virus has been linked to Israel.

And The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Israel had obtained confidential information about the closed-door negotiations to help it argue against a potential deal.

Israel strongly denied the report, however.

“These allegations are utterly false,” a senior official in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office told CNN at the time. “The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies.”

Asked Thursday about the allegations of potential espionage, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told CNN that the ministry had no comment. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also declined to comment.

Earlier Thursday, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israel Army Radio there was “no basis to all the international reports about the involvement of Israel in this affair.”

She added, “What is far more important is that we will prevent a bad agreement, or else at the end of the day, we will find ourselves with an Iranian nuclear umbrella.”

Framework deal

The Israeli government’s use of the information it allegedly gleaned — sharing it with U.S. lawmakers and others to undercut support for a deal — angered the White House, the Journal said in its report, citing current and former U.S. officials.

On Thursday, several U.S. officials told CNN that the Obama administration doesn’t doubt reports accusing Israel of using the virus to spy on the Iran talks. Espionage during the talks is nothing new, one official said.

“They do it all the time,” the official said. “They did it last year, and they did it again this year. This doesn’t come as any great surprise to anyone.”

The talks involved the so-called P5+1, made up of the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, across the table from Iran.

The negotiations, which wrapped up in the Swiss city of Lausanne in April, resulted in a framework deal that was backed by the White House but opposed by Netanyahu and many in the U.S. Congress.

The parties have until the end to June to work out the details and put the plan to paper.

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Europe

Catalonia independence: Huge Spain unity rally in Barcelona

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At least 350,000 people gathered in Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, for a rally against independence from Spain.

They waved Spanish and Catalan flags and carried banners saying “Together we are stronger” and “Catalonia is Spain”.

It was the largest such rally in Catalonia amid speculation that Catalan leaders will declare independence from Spain next week.

Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy has warned he would not rule out anything “within the law” to halt Catalonian independence.

Similar rallies were held across Spain on Saturday.

The final results from last week’s disputed referendum in the wealthy north-eastern region suggested 90% of the 2.3 million people who voted backed independence. Turnout was 43%.

There have been several claims of irregularities, and many ballot boxes were seized by Spanish police.

Nearly 900 people were injured as the police, trying to enforce a Spanish court ban on the vote, attempted to disperse voters.

Thirty-three police officers were also hurt.

Police in Barcelona said 350,000 people turned out for Sunday’s rally; organisers put the figure at 950,000.

Among them were former government minister Josep Borrell, who said his fellow Catalans needed to recover their level-headedness, and nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.

“You need more than a coup plot to destroy what has been built over 500 years of history,” Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian-Spanish novelist, told the crowds.

One of those attending the rally was 72-year-old Araceli Ponze. She told Reuters: “We feel both Catalan and Spanish.

“We are facing a tremendous unknown. We will see what happens this week but we have to speak out very loudly so they know what we want.”

Similar unity rallies were held across Spain on Saturday.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont is expected to address the regional parliament on Tuesday at 18:00 local time (16:00 GMT). Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended a Catalan parliament session that had been planned for Monday.

There is speculation that the parliament will declare independence unilaterally at its next sitting.

In an interview with El País newspaper, Spain’s prime minister retained the tough line he and his government have taken over the referendum.

“The government will ensure that any declaration of independence will lead to nothing,” Mariano Rajoy said.

He also said he planned to keep extra police, deployed to Catalonia before the referendum, in the region until the crisis is over.

And he rejected calls for early national elections.

Asked whether he was prepared to invoke Article 155 of Spain’s constitution, which allows the national parliament to intervene in the running of an autonomous region, Mr Rajoy said: “I don’t rule out absolutely anything that is within the law.”

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister who lost a referendum on independence from the UK in 2014, said on Sunday that the only way to resolve the crisis was with “both sides coming together to try to find a way forward… that respects the rule of law, democracy and the right to choose”.

On Saturday, thousands of people calling for Spanish unity attended rallies in the capital Madrid. Other demonstrations – including in Barcelona – were also held urging political dialogue.

Meanwhile, businesses have continued to announce their departure from the Catalan region amid the ongoing political uncertainty.

© 2017, Sunday Emmanuel. All rights reserved.

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Europe

Cameron issues Brexit pensions warning

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David Cameron and George Osborne warns....

David Cameron and George Osborne say they might not be able to protect spending on pensions, the NHS and defence in the long term if the UK votes to leave the EU. (more…)

© 2016, Michael Isaac. All rights reserved.

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Europe

EU referendum: Out vote ‘would risk jobs’

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Leaving the European Union would threaten jobs and put the UK’s economy at risk, business leaders from some of Britain’s biggest companies have said. (more…)

© 2016, . All rights reserved.

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