- Title: SPAIN: Sparks fly as Spain's PM clashes with opponent in TV pre-election debate
- Date: 26th February 2008
- Summary: (BN01) MADRID, SPAIN (FEBRUARY 25, 2008) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF EMPTY STREETS AT NIGHT
- Embargoed: 12th March 2008 12:00
- Location: Spain
- Country: Spain
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA22HWLMSCQUOYS480BG461N1Z1
- Story Text: Terrorism and immigration main issues in first televised electoral debate in Spain for 15 years. First opinion polls declare Spanish premier the winner.
Spain's Prime Minister and the conservative opposition leader exchanged accusations of lying and of using terrorism for politicalon Monday (February 25), in a prickly live television debate ahead of a March 9 election.
Premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, ahead in polls, accused conservative Popular Party (PP) leader Mariano Rajoy of causing alarmism and stirring up trouble.
Rajoy, more forceful in debate than political pundits had predicted, in turn accused Zapatero of being two-faced, and of giving in to terrorism.
"You have lied, you have fooled all Spaniards, first me and then the whole of Spain. You have politically negotiated with ETA, you have put in doubt the rule of law, you have played with the law, you have yielded to the terrorists and have accepted the black mail. You are the first Prime Minister in Spanish history to do so," Rajoy said.
"You were the ones who lied with the terrorist attack of March 11," Zapatero replied.
Both candidates lost their cool at different moments, interrupting and accusing each other of lying in a debate mainly centred on past performance.
Rajoy asked Zapatero several times about the dangers of the government's "soft" immigration policy, a tactic which seems aimed at winning the PP some undecided voters.
"We have twice as many people with residency permits today than we did in 2004. This has been a real sieve. They have ridiculed you in the European Union and you are criticising me over some immigrant regularisations that I undertook in agreement with the European Union ," he said.
Zapatero volleyed back:
"Mr. Rajoy, along with Spaniards, there are immigrants in this country working as volunteers on NGOs, as organ donors and also amongst the deceased in Spanish Army's peace missions and the terrorist attacks of March 11 and the T4 (Barajas airport). Should we ask all those immigrants who are born , live and die with us and, sometimes for us, to sign your 'potential-delinquent' paper?," he said referring to Rajoy's proposal to make immigrants sign a social contract whereby they agree to respect and follow Spanish law and customs.
Early polls run by several local television channels proclaimed Zapatero as the winner of the face-off.
The first live television debate for 15 years between the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition is expected to have grabbed massive audiences and play a key role in deciding next month's vote.
Zapatero's Socialists are currently enjoying a gap of up to 5.4 points in polls over their main rivals, but that is not likely to be enough to muster an absolute majority.
A second live debate takes place next Monday (March 3).
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