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Spain no-confidence vote: Mariano Rajoy and Pedro Sanchez trade barbs in parliament

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Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has fended off calls to resign as Spains parliamentary debate heads for a confidence vote. The Socialist opposition hopeful Pedro Sanchez is pitching to Catalan and Basque nationalists.

Sanchez told Rajoy during a parliamentary debate on Thursday that the premier should quit over the funding scandal engulfing his conservative Peoples Party (PP). "Resign and everything will end," Sanchez said. "Your time is up." Last week, National Court judges imposed hefty sentences on 29 people with links to the PP, including elected officials, and fined Rajoys party for operating hidden accounts. Retorting, Rajoy told parliament the Socialists had lost two previous general elections under Sanchezs leadership and warned that a Sanchez government would endanger Spains financial stability. "Every time you open your mouth, the risk premium goes up," Rajoy told Sanchez. 

Last year, Sanchez regained leadership of the center-left Socialists after an internal revolt. Outcome uncertain Parliaments no-confidence vote — designed to oust the standing premier but also choose a replacement — remained unpredictable Thursday. Sanchez needs an absolute majority, or 176 of 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies, to oust Rajoy. The far-left Podemos is set to vote in Sanchezs favor, but a five-vote gap remains, with the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) still uncommitted prior to Fridays vote. Media reports claimed on Thursday that they would vote against Rajoy. 

Basques are set to benefit from recent national budget negotiations, which Sanchez has promised to uphold. If the nationalists, however, support the Socialist motion, Sanchez could become prime minister early next week, with the aim of calling a general election. Refusing to support Sanchezs no-confidence motion is the Ciudadanos (Citzens) party, whose leader Albert Rivera wants a new election on a platform of more central control over Spains self-governed regions. The party is an opponent of the Catalan separatist movement. In power since 2011, Rajoy is credited with steering Spain out of its recession crisis in decades. Opponents argued that this has come at the expense of austerity measures, persistently high (but falling) unemployment rates, and increased inequality. ipj/msh (AP, Reuters) 

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