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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 March, 2005, 19:22 GMT
Portugal PM signals over EU vote
Portuguese Socialist Party leader Jose Socrates salutes supporters following their election win
Jose Socrates' government has to tackle an ailing economy
Portugal's new prime minister says he wants to hold a referendum on the EU constitution at the same time as local elections due later this year.

Jose Socrates was speaking after being sworn in at a ceremony in the capital Lisbon following his Socialist Party's election win last month.

A vote on the EU charter at the same time as local elections will require a change in the Portuguese constitution.

There are restrictions on time allowed between a referendum and an election.

"I think we can and should minimise the costs of these consultations of the popular will," said Mr Socrates.

"There is no political reason to stop the referendum on the European Union constitution from being held together with municipal elections."

He said it would boost voter turn-out as well as save the state money.

EU referendums

The Socialist party swept back into power after three years in opposition last month, with its first parliamentary majority in a general election.

Mr Socrates has pledged to restore confidence in a country whose economy is ailing and which had become disillusioned with the ruling centre-right Social Democratic Party.

Portugal is strongly pro-European like its neighbour Spain, which recently endorsed the constitution in its own referendum. It was the first popular vote to be held on the charter.

Three other EU countries - Lithuania, Hungary and Slovenia - have ratified it by parliamentary vote. France is to hold its referendum at the end of May.

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