Spanish prime minister reshuffles cabinet

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Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will announce a "broad reshuffle" of his cabinet Wednesday, the government said.

The Spanish leader is shaking up his team after securing enough support to narrowly pass a cost-slashing budget through parliament. A budget defeat would have forced him into early general elections.

Zapatero will drop Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, replacing him with Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez, and name his Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba as deputy prime minister, El Pais said in its online edition.

"There will be a broad reshuffle of the government," said a spokesman for the prime minister's office. He declined however to give any details.

Zapatero will meet in the morning with King Juan Carlos I to inform him of the ministeral changes and then announce the new government to the press, he said.

Zapatero has slumped in the opinion polls as he pushed through painful austerity measures and labour market reforms, and advocated deep budget cuts to avoid a Greek-style debt crisis.

The major challenge for him now is passing a budget that pledges to cut spending next year by 7.9 percent to 122 billion euros (170 billion dollars).

There had been some doubt as to whether the government could pass the budget as the economic measures cost the Socialists the support of smaller parties further to the left.

General elections are not scheduled until 2012 but failure to pass the budget, scheduled for a first reading as early as Wednesday, would almost certainly have forced an early election.

Zapatero apparently secured the budget's passage on Monday by winning the support of a tiny regional party, the Canary Islands Coalition with two seats in the 350-seat parliament.

The government sealed a similar deal on Friday with the centre-right Basque Nationalist Party, which has six seats in the assembly.

With 169 seats in Spain's 350-member assembly, Zapatero's Socialists are seven seats short of a majority and have to pass legislation on a vote-by-vote basis.

© 2010 AFP

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