- Title: SPAIN: Candidates face off in final election debate
- Date: 4th March 2008
- Summary: (W5) MADRID, SPAIN (MARCH 3, 2008) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF LOCATION OF DEBATE VARIOUS OF SECURITY
- Embargoed: 19th March 2008 12:00
- Location: Spain
- Country: Spain
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA1B831IZPBZVRJ4RZZ6YLS91XV
- Story Text: Spain's final electoral debate was held on Monday (March 3) pitting Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero against conservative Popular Party candidate Mariano Rajoy.
Both candidates arrived at the debate, which was broadcast to many European and Latin American countries, and shook hands before beginning.
Whoever wins the March 9 election faces the challenge of preventing Spain's economic confidence crisis from worsening, growing immigration, and dealing with the Basque separatist group ETA, who have killed 821 people over four decades in a violent campaign for independence.
Zapatero pledged to support any government that would fight terrorism and called on Rajoy to do the same.
"Whatever next Sunday's result is, the Socialist Party will support the government of Spain in the fight against terrorism without condition. That is the solemn promise I am making in the name of my party. I would like you to say the same Mr. Rajoy. It is the best news we could give all Spaniards," he said.
Rajoy said he not support a government that would negotiate with ETA.
"I would support the government that wants to defeat ETA. But right now I am not willing to support a government that wants to negotiate with a terrorist organisation. That I will not do and I understand that many Spaniards would not do that," said Rajoy.
On the topic of immigration Zapatero said only those who obey the law would be allowed to stay in the country.
"Our immigration policy has a principal that only those that can work under the law can come. Fight with firmness against illegal immigration," he said.
"We have to expel all those foreigners that commit crimes even if they've been in Spain for five years. The law has to prohibit massive regularisation. We have to create an immigration agency to bring and hire people," responded Rajoy.
Meanwhile, some Madrid residents did not expect too much from the debates.
"They should stop fighting and speak reasonably to each other, that's what they should do. Let there be peace," said Almudena, who was watching the debate at a local bar.
"It's not such a big deal, these debates. It's part of the political game and I really have no interest," added another Madrid resident Fernando.
Zapatero's lead over the conservative opposition Popular Party was 4 percentage points in polls published on Monday, the last allowed before the election. But, according to some analysts, the gap may narrow by the time votes are counted on March 9.
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