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Spanish premier Rajoy speaks over corruption scandal

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has spoken in parliament to answer questions over a corruption scandal that has led to demands for him to quit. Opponents have threatened a vote of censure against the premier.

Rajoy appeared before the extraordinary session of parliament on Thursday to address members on the slush-fund scandal surrounding his government.

Rajoy said the time had come to give a complete explanation in light of the "lies and manipulation" of certain political rivals.

"I am appearing here to offer the clarifications that are necessary in the situation we are going through," he said. "I have come to halt the erosion of the image of Spain."

The 58-year-old premier, who came to power in 2011, has denied allegations that he received illegal payments from his conservative Popular Party. The claims were made by former party treasurer, Luis Barcenas, who has named him in the scandal.

At the parliamentary session, Rajoy said he had been wrong to trust Barcenas, who was jailed last month pending a separate corruption investigation.

"I made a mistake in maintaining confidence in someone who we now know was not worthy of it," Rajoy said. He added that he would not be standing down.

"Nothing related to this matter has prevented me, nor will it prevent me from governing," the prime minister said.

Opposition Socialist leader Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, who had threatened a motion of censure against Rajoy if he did not attend the session, spoke after the premier.

"You did not come to this chamber voluntarily," said Rubalcaba. "We had to bring you here, Mr. Rajoy."

"You came here to try to save yourself," the opposition leader said, accusing Rajoy of damaging Spanish democracy by funding the party illegally for the two decades. "You have harmed Spain. For this, Mr. Rajoy, today I ask for you to leave."

The session began with a minute's silence for the victims of the train disaster in Santiago de Compostela, which killed 79 people last week.

The first details of the scandal came to light in 2009, when a judicial investigation was launched into alleged illegal payments involving members of the Popular Party.

However, it was only in January this year, when a newspaper published copies of documents purportedly showing payments to individuals, including Rajoy, that major party figures became embroiled in the scandal.

rc /tj (AFP, dpa)