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Spain's Socialists win re-election

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080310/ap_on_re_eu/spain_elections Spain s Socialists win re-election By PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 26 minutes
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 9 7:52 PM
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080310/ap_on_re_eu/spain_elections

      Spain's Socialists win re-election

      By PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 26
      minutes ago

      MADRID, Spain - Spain's Socialist prime minister won
      re-election Sunday, as voters dismissed worries about
      a slumping economy, immigration and resurgent Basque
      militants to hand him a second term.

      The results were a clear endorsement of Prime Minister
      Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's record, which includes
      reforms such as legalizing gay marriage and granting
      on-demand divorce, once thought unthinkable in this
      overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country.

      Zapatero also withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq and
      launched a drive to cede more power to Spain's
      semiautonomous regions.

      "The Spanish people have spoken clearly and decided to
      start a new era," Zapatero told euphoric supporters
      outside the party's headquarters in Madrid. "I will
      govern with a firm but open hand."

      With 97 percent of the vote counted, Zapatero's
      Socialist party had 43.7 percent, versus 40.1 percent
      for the conservative Popular Party, according to the
      Interior Ministry.

      Opposition conservatives conceded defeat, but took
      solace in picking up more parliamentary seats than the
      Socialists. Both parties gained seats at the expense
      of smaller leftist and regional groups.

      While Zapatero's party picked up seats in the lower
      house, it fell short of a majority and will have to
      form an alliance with smaller regional parties to
      govern.

      For Mariano Rajoy, Zapatero's conservative rival both
      in Sunday's vote and in the 2004 election, his second
      defeat will likely increase pressure on him to step
      down as party chief.

      "I thought Rajoy would do better, he speaks with such
      conviction I'm surprised he fell behind," said Jose
      Eguren, a 29-year-old security guard in the Basque
      city of Bilbao.

      Sunday's vote came two days after the killing of
      Socialist politician Isaias Carrasco at the hands of
      the Basque militant group ETA, which jolted Spaniards
      and prompted both parties to cancel final campaign
      appearances.

      Some in Spain had predicted the killing might prompt a
      wave of sympathy and boost at the polls for Zapatero's
      party, especially after Carrasco's 20-year-old
      daughter Sandra made an emotional appeal Saturday for
      people to defy ETA by turning out en masse to vote.

      The timing of the attack was reminiscent of the
      massacre by Islamic militants who killed 191 people in
      bombings against commuter trains in Madrid on March
      11, 2004.

      Three days after that attack, Zapatero won a surprise
      victory amid a wave of voter outrage at the ruling
      conservatives, who blamed them on ETA even as evidence
      of Islamic involvement mounted. The tactics were
      widely seen as a bid to deflect perceptions that the
      killings were al-Qaida's revenge for the government's
      deeply unpopular support of the U.S.-led invasion of
      Iraq.

      Many conservatives considered Zapatero's 2004 victory
      a fluke, and saw Sunday's vote as their chance to
      correct it. The prime minister's victory was seen as
      finally giving him a legitimacy that critics say he
      has lacked.

      Sunday's results showed the Socialists on their way to
      winning 168 seats in the 350-seat lower house, up from
      the current 164 but shy of the 176 seats needed for an
      outright majority.

      The Popular Party was also shown picking up seats,
      raising its total from 148 to 154.

      In his next term, Zapatero's main task will be to
      reboot the once booming but now slowing economy,
      shaken by the subprime mortgage crisis in the U.S. and
      a cooling construction sector.

      Zapatero also faces the challenge of the resurgence of
      ETA, which ended a cease-fire in December 2006 and
      made a dramatic show of force with the killing of
      Carrasco.

      The campaign was marked by acrimony, with Rajoy
      hammering Zapatero on everything from immigration to
      the economy.

      In two televised debates between the men, Rajoy used a
      form of the word "liar" more than 30 times to describe
      Zapatero. He also blamed Zapatero for not doing enough
      to spur the cooling economy.

      Rajoy vowed to make immigrants sign a contract
      obliging them to respect Spanish customs and learn the
      language, a position Zapatero's party called
      xenophobic. The candidates also clashed on Zapatero's
      willingness to grant more self-rule to Spain's
      semiautonomous regions, which conservatives warn will
      tear apart the nation.

      All of these issues have left Spain polarized. Enrique
      Monreal, 35, a publishing company employee, expects
      the confrontational climate to continue.

      "It will take several years for things to calm down.
      Right now it is so tense you are nervous even talking
      to your neighbor," Monreal said outside a polling
      station in Madrid.

      ___

      AP correspondents Daniel Woolls and Ciaran Giles in
      Madrid, and Harold Heckle in Bilbao contributed to
      this report.
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