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Spain's Sanchez, Podemos suggest more talks to avoid looming election

REUTERS/Sergio Perez

By Belén Carreño

Spain's acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez and the leader of far-left Unidas Podemos both suggested on Wednesday trying to revive talks to avoid a new election, a day after the four-month-old negotiations reached a stalemate.
Mr Sanchez's Socialists have been trying to reach a pact with Podemos since they won an election in April without a majority. If they cannot agree on a government by Sept. 23, a new election - Spain's fourth in as many years - would be held on Nov. 10.
Negotiators for both sides said on Tuesday talks had hit a dead end. On Wednesday, Mr Sanchez and Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias told parliament they were prepared to continue, without offering any of the compromises the other was seeking.
Mr Sanchez, a Socialist, turned down an offer by Podemos' Pablo Iglesias to meet one-on-one, telling him to present any new proposals via the negotiators.
"There are many ways to reach an understanding ... If you have proposals we will listen. Let the progressive legislature in which the Spaniards voted start working," Mr Sanchez said, appealing to Mr Iglesias not to block his government.
Mr Iglesias said he wanted the Socialists to restore an earlier offer of cabinet posts rather than their current offer, of subministerial jobs. The Socialists withdrew their earlier offer after Podemos said it wanted more important cabinet positions.
"I again extend my hand to you," Mr Iglesias said, addressing Mr Sanchez during the debate. "You have made us an offer and we made a counteroffer. I suggest that based on these two offers we sit down to negotiate."
He said "the Spanish citizenry would win" from a deal on forming a government, even if neither party got exactly what it wanted, and cited a recent coalition deal in Italy between the anti-establishment 5-Star movement and the centre-left Democratic Party.
The time to reach an agreement is running out. Two government sources said that the Spanish King was likely to hold consultations next Tuesday with the political parties to verify if a workable government is in the offing and then ask its potential leader to face a parliamentary vote by Sept. 23.
In July, parliament twice denied Mr Sanchez confirmation after Podemos rejected the Socialists' coalition government offer and this is his last opportunity to form a government.
Opinion polls show that a new election would be unlikely to bring any more clarity.
Mr Sanchez said that his party wanted a deal, preferably based on a pact in parliament to have a working majority. He would also need the support, or at least abstention, of a few regional parties to win a parliamentary confirmation vote.
"We are the last ones to want a new election," Mr Sanchez said. "What we want is that Spain has a strong government."
Spanish parties are struggling to find ways to govern the country in an era in which new parties have emerged to challenge a de facto two-party system dominated for decades by the Socialists and conservative Partido Popular.

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