Incumbent determined to go down fighting as Socialists aim fire at right

Backed by party heavyweights, Montilla pleads for leftist solution to crisis

Catalan Socialists brought out the heavy artillery on Thursday night, the penultimate day of the campaign, enlisting Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, his predecessor Felipe González and Defense Minister Carme Chacón to support their candidate in Sunday's regional election in a massive closing rally at the symbolic Sant Jordi hall in Barcelona.

Although surveys predict a significant defeat for the Socialist incumbent premier, José Montilla, party leaders called upon the 20,000 people in the hall (by Socialist estimates) to "raise a breakwater made of left-leaning people to stop the conservative wave," in the words of candidate Montilla.

The rhetoric at the rally went beyond the regional sphere, with all the Socialist leaders blaming Spain's opposition Popular Party for constantly criticizing the central government's anti-crisis measures, especially at a time when pressure from the financial markets is fueling international speculation about a possible bailout for the country.

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"They are so irresponsible that not only do they not cooperate with the government, they actually throw spanners in the works to do what they can to sink Spain. They don't care if the country sinks, as long as Zapatero sinks," said González to resounding applause.

Meanwhile, Zapatero said on Friday that the Catalan opposition's ideas for financial reform in the region are "the worst proposal yet by Artur Mas," the leader of the center-right nationalists of CiU, who looks set to win in a landslide on Sunday. Speaking in a radio interview, Zapatero hailed Montilla for being able to rule the northeastern region in tandem with two small parties, the leftist ERC and the greens of ICV, something which Zapatero described as "very complicated."

Montilla spent Friday in a flurry of public appearances scheduled back-to-back from seven in the morning to 10 at night, visiting everything from the SEAT car factory to the concert venue Sala Razzmatazz. The current premier insisted that his government is committed to helping Catalan industry and called on workers to vote for the Socialist Party so that the region may come out of the crisis "on the left."

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