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AP Interview: Czechs ready for fake news ahead of elections

Eva Romancovova who coordinated the creation of the Center Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats answers questions to The Associated Press during an interview in Prague, Czech Republic, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017. A new Czech center set up to combat fake news is getting ready for disinformation campaigns ahead of elections despite a fierce opposition from the country's president. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Eva Romancovova who coordinated the creation of the Center Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats answers questions to The Associated Press during an interview in Prague, Czech Republic, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017. A new Czech center set up to combat fake news is getting ready for disinformation campaigns ahead of elections despite a fierce opposition from the country's president. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — A new Czech unit to combat fake news is preparing to combat disinformation campaigns ahead of two key elections, an official said on Friday.

Eva Romancovova, who co-ordinated the creation of the Center Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats at the Interior Ministry, said it has been working on "a fairly large project to protect the upcoming elections in the Czech Republic."

"We don't have information that the elections are threatened, but the news coming from abroad, even from our neighbouring countries such as Germany, is very alarming," Romancovova told The Associated Press during an interview at the ministry. "And it would be very naive to think that Czech Republic, being in an election year, would be spared of such a campaign and such attacks."

Czechs will choose lawmakers in October and the new president early in 2018.

"Our method of operation is that we select information that we get from our international partners and from media outlets and pick all possible scenarios of threats to the elections," Romancovova said. "And we judge if the Czech Republic has countermeasures to them."

A team of 15 experts monitors traditional and social media to quickly rebut misinformation, possibly from pro-Russian sources, which has a potential to radicalize public opinion or cause panic.

The Czech Republic's counter-intelligence agency, BIS, warned in its annual report last year that the Russians among others were trying to infiltrate Czech media and the Internet to spread disinformation and propaganda to harm relations with the U.S. and NATO, and support extremists.

The United States and 10 EU countries, including Germany, France, Britain, the Baltic countries, and Sweden, agreed last year to build a hybrid threat centre in Finland. The agency will work closely with the EU's foreign affairs council and NATO, which has several cyber centres .

President Milos Zeman, whose views are considered pro-Russian, has repeatedly attacked the unit. Zeman linked it to censorship and said that no one can have a monopoly on truth.

Romancovova said the centre will offer facts and has no power to censor anyone.

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This story has been corrected to show Romancovova's first name is Eva.