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Spanish PM to shuffle cabinet this week: reports

MADRID – Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose socialist government is suffering in the polls, is to shuffle his cabinet later this week, reports said Monday.

As the recession tightens its grip in Spain, the reshuffle will officially be announced on Tuesday or Wednesday, say newspaper reports.

Heavyweight Economy Minister Pedro Solbes will leave the government and be replaced by Minister for Public Administration Elena Salgado, all three major daily newspapers reported, citing unnamed sources close to the ruling party.

Reports of a cabinet reshuffle have circulated in the Spanish press for weeks, but gained a new intensity on Sunday.

Zapatero, in Turkey on an official visit, refused late on Sunday to comment on the first reports.

"I have the habit of saying nothing on this subject, but outside of Spain, I am even less likely to do so," he told a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan when asked about the reports.

"Everyone is free to publish the information that they want. We will see if they turn out to be true or not," he added.

According to the reports, party spokesman Jose Blanco will take on the post of public works and transport minister, replacing the embattled Magdalena Alvarez who has been attacked over her handling of a snowstorm in January.

The Socialist president of the southwestern region of Andalusia will take up a ministerial post in charge of territorial policy, according to El Pais, ABC and El Mundo, which cover the full range of the political spectrum.

Deputy prime minister Maria Teresa de la Vega, one of only a handful of cabinet members who enjoys an approval rating of over 50 percent, will stay on in her post, the newspapers said.

The reports of a cabinet reshuffle come after a poll published Sunday in daily Publico public found that the Socialists, re-elected to a second term in March 2008, are now trailing the opposition conservative Popular Party (PP).

The survey puts the PP on 40.7 percent, up five percent since January and the party’s best score since the general election of 2008.

Support for the Socialists meanwhile dropped by one percentage point to 39.2 percent during this period.

In 2008, Spain entered its first recession in more than a decade. It pushed up the country’s unemployment rate to 15.5 percent in February, the highest level in the 27-nation European Union.

AFP / Expatica