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Spain’s leaders clash in rare election debate

MADRID, Spain (AP) — Spain’s prime minister and the opposition leader clashed on the economy, Basque separatism and immigration Monday night as they staged a rare election debate — a potential momentum-builder in a race that is now a dead heat.

Socialist Premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and conservative opposition leader Mariano Rajoy deluged each other with statistics Monday on everything from the price of eggs to funding for university scholarships while arguing over the state of this deeply polarized country as it heads toward a general election on March 9.

In Spain’s first such debate in 15 years, the two men interrupted each other often, did a lot of head-shaking and at one point engaged in what verged on a shouting match over failed peace talks with the armed Basque group ETA.

But there were no personal insults, and neither committed a major gaffe or scored a knockout punch.

The debate was important because the two men’s parties are neck-and-neck and polls suggest there is an enticing number of undecided voters.

Rajoy attacked Zapatero repeatedly over his failed peace talks with ETA, saying Zapatero had raised the possibility of making concessions to the group — a taboo for any Spanish government. Rajoy also assailed Zapatero’s recent admission that the government had been in contact with ETA even after it broke a cease-fire in 2006 and killed two people in a car bombing.

You lied. You fooled all the Spanish people, Rajoy said. You toyed with the law.

Zapatero hit back saying You were the ones who lied, alluding to the March 2004 Islamic terrorist attacks in Madrid, which Rajoy’s party, in power at the time, initially blamed on ETA, even as evidence of Islamic involvement emerged.

Spanish voters ousted Rajoy’s Popular Party in elections held three days after the attacks, which killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800. E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Spain’s leaders clash in rare election debate – found here.

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February 26, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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