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Spanish Leader’s Future In Doubt As Socialists Suffer Major Election Losses, Newspapers Call For Prime Minister To Quit

Major gains by the center-right Popular Party in municipal and regional elections cast doubt Monday on the future of Socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez.

Three of Spain’s five major national newspapers urged early general elections. Gonzalez, however, indicated he intends to serve out his term, which officially is to end in 1997.

“Gonzalez must resign,” the conservative daily ABC said in an editorial, adding that Sunday’s elections lead to the “clear conclusion that the Socialist cycle is over.”

“Gonzalez and his associates look set to close their eyes again to the facts and appear adamant to continue, no matter what,” said the centrist El Mundo newspaper.

The Madrid-based El Pais questioned Gonzalez’s future as head of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party. The centrist daily said the party seriously must contemplate not only a change in its message but also in its candidates.

Support for the Socialists has weakened after a succession of corruption scandals involving politicians and party appointees. Several former senior law enforcement officials were charged this year with having ties to death squads that had killed Basque separatists in the 1980s.

The Socialists have held the national government since 1982. Since losing their parliamentary majority in June 1993 elections, they have relied on the support of a small party from the northeastern Catalunya region.

The party, the Catalan Convergence and Union, indicated Sunday it would continue to support the Socialists at least until the end of the year when Spain’s six-month presidency of the European Union ends.

Catalunya was one of four regions that did not hold regional elections Sunday. The Popular Party triumphed in 10 of the 13 other regions and 42 of 52 provincial capitals.

“We have obtained a clear and ample victory,” Popular Party leader Jose Maria Aznar told supporters late Sunday. “We have opened the door to hope for Spain - we have reached the next-to-last step. The next will be the government of Spain.”

In elections for more than 8,000 city councils, the Popular Party won an average of 35 percent of the vote, with 99 percent of the ballots tallied. That would be a gain of almost 10 points since the last municipal elections in 1991.

The Socialists won 30.8 percent compared with 38.4 percent in 1991, while the communist-led United Left won 11.7 percent, up from 8.5 percent.

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