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Zapatero confirmed for second term

Spain's Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was confirmed as the country's Prime Minister Friday following his Socialist Party's victory in legislative elections last month. Guy Hedgecoe reports from Madrid.


Spanish lawmakers voted to confirm Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to his second term as Prime Minister following his Socialist Party's victory in elections last month.

The vote comes two days after he failed to receive the needed absolute majority in a first-round ballot.

But this time, only a simple majority -- more votes than any other candidate, of whom there are none -- will suffice.

The Socialists won a second four-year mandate in March 9 elections, but were seven seats shorts of an absolute majority in the 350-member lower house of Parliament.

The main opposition, conservative Popular Party (PP), voted against Zapatero Wednesday while smaller Catalan and Basque nationalist parties, whose support could have given him a first-round victory, abstained.

The Socialists held talks last week with the leaders of minor parties to seek their backing for Zapatero's nomination but failed to reach an agreement.

"Zapatero was in a position to make a deal with some of the smaller parties so as to obtain a clear majority in Congress, but he preferred to begin this legislature free of compromising commitments," said the centre-left newspaper El Pais.

During a parliamentary debate prior to the first-round vote, Zapatero said his government would seek deals with other parties on a case-by-case basis to pass legislation, as he did during the last four-year legislature when the Socialists also lacked a parliamentary majority.

He is to announce the makeup of his new cabinet on Saturday, after being sworn in by King Juan Carlos.

The governnment has indicated that key members of the outgoing cabinet, such as Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, Economy Minister Pedro Solbes and Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa de la Vega, will remain in their posts.

Zapatero also identified the flagging economy and the fight against the armed Basque separatist group ETA as priorities in his second term.

In particular, the 47-year-old leader appealed for a cross-party strategy to combat ETA, which has killed 822 people in its nearly 40-year campaign for an independent Basque nation encompassing parts of northern Spain and southwestern France.

Zapatero's first four-year term was marked by confrontation with the PP over his failed attempt to negotiate peace with ETA.

He also vowed to dip into a massive budget surplus to speed up public works projects, to ease the bite of the global credit crunch and rising interest rates on Spain's ounce-buoyant construction sector.

The Bank of Spain predicts the economy will grow by 2.4 percent this year, its lowest rate in over a decade, after expanding 3.8 percent in 2007.

Zapatero also vowed to pass a law in his second term aimed at ending discrimination against people of different sexual orientation, ethnic origin or religious beliefs, as well as new measures to combat domestic violence.

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