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Spain's Zapatero shuffles cabinet as government popularity slumps

In a surprise decision, Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero has announced a major cabinet shuffle. The move comes as his unpopular government is poised to implement painful austerity measures to combat a huge budget deficit.

Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero

Zapatero's austerity measures are widely unpopular

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has announced his biggest cabinet shuffle since taking office in 2004. In a nationally televised speech Zapatero said that Spain needed “a politically strong” and experienced government to manage the country’s difficult economic situation.

The cabinet shuffle is being seen as an effort to tackle the government’s widespread unpopularity in face of painful austerity measures.

Zapatero's government is poised to implement major spending cuts while at the same time raising taxes in an effort to reduce the country's gaping public deficit and avoid a Greek-style debt crisis. The country’s unemployment rate stands at 20 percent - the highest in the European Union.

Recent opinion polls indicate that the opposition conservative Popular Party has the most support among the electorate, with a lead of around 15 percentage points over Zapatero’s Socialists. The prime minister's approval rate has sunk to below 30 percent, the worst since his re-election in 2008.

Unexpected changes

The extent of the shuffle came as a surprise as initially the prime minister’s office had only announced that Labor Minister Celestine Corbacho would be replaced. His successor is the secretary general for employment, Valeriano Gomez.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba is to replace Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega. Rubalcaba, who is widely seen as a potential successor to Zapatero, will however retain his old portfolio.

The changes will also see Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos be replaced by current Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez. Both Moratinos and Vega have been in office since the Socialists won the 2004 elections.

The shuffle will also affect the health and the environment ministries. The portfolio for housing and equality is being dissolved as part of the efforts to cut government spending.

Author: Andreas Illmer (dpa, Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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