Women outnumber men in new Spanish government

Spain's re-elected Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced a government Saturday which for the first time included more women than men and a female defence minister.

Women outnumber men in new Spanish government
Most key members of the outgoing cabinet, such as Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, Economy Minister Pedro Solbes and Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, remained in their posts.

But Carme Chacon, 37, the outgoing housing minister and a rising star in the ruling Socialist Party, was named to head the defence ministry.

She succeeds Jose Antonio Alonso, who last month was named speaker of the lower house of parliament.

There are nine women and eight men in the new cabinet.

"It is the first government in which a woman has the defence portfolio and the first government in which there are more women than men," Zapatero, 47, said at a news conference to announce the new lineup.

He said "equality between men and women" would be one of the chief goals of the new government, elected on March 9.

During his first four-year term, his government had already passed a raft of liberal social reforms, such as laws to allow same-sex marriages, promote gender equality, combat domestic violence and make divorce easier.

The new government included five new names, while four other ministers were ousted.

Among the new faces were Science and Innovation Minister Cristina Garmendia, 45, and Equality Minister Bibiana Aido, 31, who will be Spain's youngest ever cabinet member.

Solbes will have the key task of implementing a stimulus package to revive the flagging economy, which Zapatero has identified as one of his top priorities.

He will be helped by Miguel Sebastian, Zapatero's former economic adviser, who was named to the post of industry minister.

Solbes is a former EU economic commissioner, and is seen as a financial disciplinarian. During the prime minister's first mandate, he was able to turn in budget surpluses for several years running, something rare in Europe.

But he must now open the purse strings, as Zapatero has promised to dip into the budget surplus to pay for public works schemes and increase the minimum wage.

The Bank of Spain predicts the economy will grow by 2.4 percent this year, its lowest rate in over a decade and after expanding 3.8 percent in 2007, as the global credit crunch and rising interest rates hit Spain's once-buoyant construction industry.

"We must continue to boost the economy and do it in a new way, less dependent on construction," Zapatero said Saturday.

Rubalcaba, who was retained at the interior ministry, will tackle another of Zapatero's priorities - combating the resurgent Basque separatist group ETA.

Zapatero has also appealed for a cross-party strategy to fight ETA, which has killed 822 people in its nearly 40-year campaign for an independent Basque nation encompassing parts of northern Spain and southwestern France.

Zapatero's first four-year term was marked by confrontation with the conservative opposition Popular Party over his failed attempt to negotiate peace with ETA.

Moratinos, a former EU Middle East envoy, remains at the foreign ministry, where he will prepare Spain's EU presidency in 2010 and also implement the prime minister's promise to mend relations with Washington after a four-year chill sparked by the withdrawal of Madrid's troops from Iraq.

Earlier Saturday, Zapatero took the oath of office in front of King Juan Carlos in a brief ceremony at the royal Zarazuela Palace.

Spanish lawmakers confirmed Zapatero as prime minister for a second term on Friday.

He received the backing of all 169 Socialist deputies, while 158 legislators voted against him and 23 abstained.

The Socialists were seven seats short of an absolute majority in the 350-member lower house of parliament.

Last Mod: 13 Nisan 2008, 12:13
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