Socialists to choose new leader as Zapatero tries to unite party

Former PM asks PP "to reflect" before undoing his social reforms

As the race between candidates Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba and Carme Chacón grew bitterly tense, former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero used his farewell address on Friday to ask his fellow Socialists to unite behind whichever of the two is elected party leader this weekend.

At the end of his speech at the Socialist convention in Seville, in which he asked the Popular Party (PP) administration "to reflect" before undoing the many social reforms his government passed, Zapatero said: "Whoever is elected secretary general tomorrow [Saturday] should have at least the same support that I was given, which was broad and generous from the first moment."

Both the Rubalcaba and Chacón camps say their candidates are ahead of each other by between 80 and 93 delegates to win the party leadership. Some delegates have complained they have been under pressure to vote for Chacón.

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"I feel like Messi trying to avoid getting kicked by Pepe," Chacón told some supporters in reference to the Barcelona and Real Madrid soccer players.

Although many top party leaders, including Zapatero, have not said who they would vote for, the tension between the two camps was visibly evident on the opening day of the convention. Manuel Chaves, the former Andalusia premier, barely spoke to his predecessor José Antonio Griñán when they passed each other in the hallway. During another nervy encounter, Griñán pulled veteran Alfonso Guerra off to one side for an uneasy discussion. Griñán last month tried to keep Guerra off the delegate list for Andalusia, the largest of all the regions. Susana Díaz, the Socialist Party secretary in Andalusia, has publicly thrown her support behind Chacón.

Zapatero, for his part, said the Socialists' goal is not "to defeat the PP but instead the crisis."

"My objective was to keep Spain from getting a [European Union] bailout," said Zapatero, who served two terms as prime minister and 11-and-a-half years as party leader.

He mentioned that among the social goals his government achieved were the relaxation of abortion laws ? which the PP wants to change back ? gay marriage, gender equality, and stronger domestic violence laws. "My time ends here. Thanks companions I will always be here for you."

Rodolfo Ares speaks to Carme Chacón and Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.
Rodolfo Ares speaks to Carme Chacón and Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.
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