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Portugal president to meet PM in government crisis

Published on 03/07/2013

Portugal's president will meet with the prime minister and lawmakers on Thursday in a bid to settle a political crisis after two ministers resigned over the country's austerity reforms, his office said.

The resignation of the finance and foreign ministers raised speculation that President Anibal Cavaco Silva may call snap elections, just as Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho is trying to fulfil a 2011 bailout deal that rescued the country from financial collapse.

“Faced with the situation created by the foreign minister presenting his resignation… the president will meet tomorrow with the prime minister and then with the parties represented in parliament,” a statement from the presidency said on Wednesday.

Foreign minister Paulo Portas resigned on Tuesday evening, a day after the shock departure of finance minister Vitor Gaspar.

In his resignation letter, Portas said he disapproved of the prime minister’s choice to replace Gaspar, Treasury Secretary Maria Luis Albuquerque — seen as an indication that Passos Coelho intended to push on with austere fiscal reforms despite protests.

As leader of a minority conservative party that is part of a coalition with Passos Coelho’s Social Democrats, Portas destabilised the government with his departure. The government could lose its parliamentary majority if the coalition breaks down.

The coalition came to power in an election in June 2011, charged with implementing a rescue plan of 78 billion euros ($101 billion) from international creditors.

The prime minister had charged Portas with pushing through parts of the bailout reforms. The foreign minister had been tasked with making reforms to save 4.7 billion euros by the end of 2014.

The statement from the president’s office said he would also meet on Wednesday with the leader of the opposition Socialist Party, Antonio Jose Seguro, who has called for Passos Coelho’s resignation and snap elections.

The prime minister said on Tuesday that he had not accepted Portas’s resignation and had no intention of stepping down himself.

“I’m not resigning. I’m not abandoning the country,” he said in a televised address.

The government has just two weeks to come up with a programme to reform the state before auditors arrive on July 15 to examine progress on reforms for the IMF, European Union and European Central Bank.