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Portuguese PM vows to ‘teach a lesson’ in weekend vote

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates vowed Monday to teach the opposition “a lesson” during early general elections this weekend triggered by their rejection of his austerity measures.

Polls suggest his Socialists have recovered from the poor opinion poll ratings his party registered when the minority government fell in March, and the party is now neck-in-neck with the main opposition Social Democrats (PSD).

“Those who thought this was already decided do not know the Socialist Party. We are going to win the elections!” he told a campaign rally in Lourinha in the centre of Portugal ahead of Sunday’s elections.

Last month Portugal became the third eurozone country after Greece and Ireland to receive a bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund and the row over who is to blame for the need to resort to outside financial aid has been a focus of the campaign.

Socrates resigned on March 23, leading to the early election, after all five opposition parties voted against the government’s latest austerity measures, which included spending cuts and tax rises, which the prime minister argues would have averted the need for the 78-billion-euro bailout.

“Those who provoked this crisis and who forced Portugal to resort to foreign aid do not deserve to win the elections. They will lose!” said Socrates, whose voice was hoarse from his frenetic pace of campaigning in recent days,.

The crowd of about one hundred people who turned out to hear him speak chanted “Victory!” in response.

“We are here to defend Portugal but also to teach them a lesson,” he told another rally later on Monday in the Lisbon suburb of Almada.

PSD leader Pedro Passos Coelho has accused Socrates, in power for six years, of having plunged Portugal into “quasi-bankruptcy.”

He warned Monday that Portugal risked following the example of Greece, which needs a second bailout package, if Socrates is re-elected.

“This is very serious. We can’t commit the mistake carried out by other countries which had to resort to foreign aid,” Coelho was quoted as saying by Portuguese media in the northern town of Ponte de Lima.

“Imagine what can happen to this country (Greece), to all the people there who have sacrificed and who see their sacrifices called into question because their government was not able to do what it promised to do.”

The loan package is expected to handcuff Portugal’s next government, as it comes with stiff conditions, including a demand that Lisbon embarks on a major raft of public sell-offs.