Zapatero seen as beating Rajoy in Spanish pre-election debate

4th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and conservative challenger Mariano Rajoy traded harsh accusations late Monday during their second live television debate ahead of Sunday's parliamentary elections.

4 March 2008

MADRID - Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and conservative challenger Mariano Rajoy traded harsh accusations late Monday during their second live television debate ahead of Sunday's parliamentary elections.

A poll published immediately after the debate gave Zapatero as the clear winner, with nearly 51 percent of those interviewed finding his performance stronger than Rajoy's, who was backed by 29 percent.

Zapatero also won the first debate a week ago, albeit by a lesser margin. Polls have the Socialists leading in the elections by a margin of about 4 percent.

Interrupting each other more frequently than during the first debate, Rajoy and Zapatero accused each other of lying and of not having "any policy" in several sectors.

A confident Zapatero accused Rajoy of "sowing doubts and spreading fear" over the country's slowing economy and of not having a social policy.

Presenting himself as a champion of "real people" behind rising unemployment figures and mortgage prices, Rajoy slammed Zapatero for not having an economic policy.

The government had not done "anything" to stem the flow of illegal immigrants who "harmed" some Spaniards' access to social resources such as education or housing, Rajoy charged.

A particularly tense part of the debate focused on terrorism, with Zapatero accusing Rajoy of disloyalty in not backing the government's policy toward the militant Basque separatist group ETA.

The candidates attacked each other over Zapatero's failed attempt to negotiate with ETA and over the former conservative government's unpopular alliance with the United States in the Iraq conflict.

"You always lie. You never tell the truth," Rajoy said at one point.

The two debates, which were aired live by several television channels, were the first such encounters between the two top Spanish candidates for prime minister in 15 years.

[Copyright dpa 2008]

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