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Spain's General Elections Set for March 14 - 2004-01-19


Spain's prime minister, José María Aznar, has announced that general elections will be held on March 14. Mr. Aznar confirmed he will not seek a third term in office.

Prime Minister Aznar announced the date of the elections, and reviewed what he believes to be his legacy for Spain.

Mr. Aznar said he was giving up his office with a clear conscience. He said he lived up to his responsibilities and that he was serenely proud to be leaving Spain better off than it was when he took office in 1996. Among his achievements he points to tax cuts, a surging economy and a sharp reduction of terrorist activity.

In the general elections of 1996, he defeated Felipe Gonzalez. Mr. Gonzalez, who as the head of the Socialist Workers Party, won four straight elections and governed Spain for 13 years. But Mr. Aznar was forced to rule for four years with the support of minority parties in parliament. In the elections of March 2000, the Popular Party won an absolute majority of parliamentary seats.

Mr. Aznar, who is 50 years old, announced several months ago that he would not be standing for a third term. At the end of August he chose his deputy premier, Mariano Rajoy, among a list of three candidates, to lead the center-right Popular Party in the coming general elections. Recent polls have given the Popular Party a lead of up to 11 points over the Socialist Workers Party, led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who took over the party leadership after the last general elections.

Mr. Aznar drew criticism from the Socialists for his decision to back the U.S.-led war in Iraq, while European powerhouses France and Germany opposed it. Spain also clashed with Germany and France in recent discussions of a new European constitution.

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