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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 15:34 GMT 16:34 UK
Spanish right chooses new leader
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar (right) with his successor Mariano Rajoy
Mariano Rajoy (left) will take over as party leader immediately
Spain's governing party has chosen deputy prime minister Mariano Rajoy to lead it into next year's general election.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who is standing down at the March election after two terms in office, said he would hand over leadership of the Popular Party immediately.

"From today the name of the leader of the PP is Mariano Rajoy," Mr Aznar said, after 503 members of the party's governing body voted for Mr Rajoy to succeed him.

No delegates voted against, and just one abstained.

Aznar legacy

Mr Rajoy is a 48-year-old former interior minister with a reputation as a good conciliator.

Born: Santiago de Compostela, 27 March 1955
Studied law
Said to be Aznar's right-hand man
Popular Party's general vice-secretary since 1990
Has held five ministerial posts since 1996
Deputy PM since 2000
Government spokesman since 2002
He won Mr Aznar's endorsement despite the fact that his vanquished rival for the post, economy minister Rodrigo Rato, is better-known overseas and has greater experience in running the economy.

Mr Rajoy is expected to stand down from his government posts this week to completely devote himself to preparing the election campaign.

In a half-hour speech, he promised to continue Mr Aznar's policies, such as the tough line on Basque terrorism, and a close relationship with the US.

Mr Aznar has not said what he plans to do after leaving office.

Close to tears

"My decision not to stand as a candidate has stemmed from my way of understanding politics: not to link a political project to a single person," he said in a televised speech.

He was repeatedly interrupted by enthusiastic applause and appeared close to tears.

In recent months, Mr Aznar has faced criticism for supporting the US-led war in Iraq and sending more than 1,000 soldiers to Iraq to help the post-war reconstruction.

His government also faced heavy criticism over its handling of the Prestige oil tanker disaster last year.

In the coming months it faces a struggle to contain calls from Spain's 17 autonomous regions for more powers .

Mr Aznar took office in March 1996, ending 13 years of Socialist rule under then Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez.

He won a second term of office in 2000, in a sweeping victory for his centre-right Popular Party.

Aznar boosted in Spain poll
26 May 03  |  Europe
Aznar sees off Iraq challenge
05 Mar 03  |  Europe
Spanish PM sweeps back in
13 Mar 00  |  Europe
Aznar: The quiet man who roared
13 Mar 00  |  Europe
Country profile: Spain
21 May 03  |  Country profiles

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