Spanish PM says stability in Catalonia to trigger GDP growth

Next year's economic growth figures could be adjusted strongly upward if normality returns to Catalonia following regional elections next month, Spain's prime minister said Tuesday.

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GDP growth expectations for 2018 had been increasing, but the government lowered the estimate from 2.6 percent to 2.3 percent, citing instability in the prosperous northeast, where a clash with regional separatist authorities has scared both companies and tourists.

In an interview with COPE radio, Mariano Rajoy said the figure could rise to "between 2.8 to 3 percent" if stability returns.

"That would be many jobs and a big increase in wealth and welfare levels," the prime minister said.

The Spanish government took control of Catalonia's powers and called a snap regional election for Dec. 21 after the Catalan government declared independence.

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.

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Rajoy also said that he has no evidence that the Russian government is behind online interference in Catalan politics, after Spain on Monday warned its European Union partners about a disinformation campaign aimed at destabilizing Europe through volatility in Catalonia.

The prime minister told COPE that 55 percent of accounts spreading fake news about the northeastern region have been identified as coming from Russian territory and 30 percent from Venezuela.

"What's evident is that there are people interested in things not going well in Europe," Rajoy said.