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Mr. Mutton said the number of computers spewing out spam had jumped from 400 to 2,000 machines on Wednesday — relatively small numbers, he said, but still apparently enough to overwhelm MasterCard’s main page for several hours.

“I’ve been surprised at how effective its been,” he said. “You don’t need huge numbers of people to carry out an attack like that.”

Meanwhile WikiLeaks’ financial facilitators said they were sharpening their legal knives.

The Germany-based Wau Holland Foundation, which has previously described itself as WikiLeaks’ main backer, on Thursday protested PayPal’s decision to cut ties with WikiLeaks and said about euro10,000 ($13,000) in donations for WikiLeaks had been frozen in the company’s account.

The foundation rejected PayPal’s allegation it was supporting illegal activity and said its lawyer had demanded that PayPal restore access to the account.

WikiLeaks’ payment processor, DataCell ehf, said it was preparing to sue Visa and MasterCard over their refusal to process donations to WikiLeaks. DataCell CEO Andreas Fink said he would seek damages from the U.S. credit card companies over their decision to block WikiLeaks funds, saying “it is simply ridiculous to think WikiLeaks has done anything criminal.”

He said he had been told that credit card donations to WikiLeaks would be frozen at least until next week.

MasterCard has declined repeated requests for comment on why it suspended WikiLeaks.

Visa Europe Ltd. spokesman Simon Kleine said organizations could receive funds through Visa so long as they were legal and didn’t breach the company’s operating rules. But he said when issues arose “we need to ensure that they’re in compliance with our operating rules and in compliance with local laws.”

He declined to say what those issues were in WikiLeaks’ case. “We investigate on a commercially confidential basis,” he said, denying allegations the company had folded under U.S. pressure.

PayPal’s Vice President Osama Bedie acknowledged that his company cut ties after seeing a U.S. government letter that said WikiLeaks’ activities in the U.S. were illegal.

Another pro-WikiLeaks rally was planned in Brisbane on Friday, and similar protest was being held Monday in London outside the Swedish Embassy.

In the central Pakistani city of Multan, dozens of people took to the streets to burn U.S. and British flags to protest Mr. Assange’s detention. Organizer Tariq Naeemullah called for the Australian’s immediate release.

“The brave man was arrested because he was exposing the real face of the big powers,” he said.

Associated Press Writer Juergen Baetz in Berlin, Frank Jordans in Geneva and Khalid Tanveer in Multan, Pakistan contributed to this report.