Mon, Dec 13, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Portugal's prime minister resigns

POLITICAL CRISIS In the latest of a string of political problems, Pedro Santana Lopes said he would step aside after the president called for early elections

AFP , LISBON

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Santana Lopes announced on Saturday that he and his center-right Cabinet had submitted their resignations, the day after the nation's socialist president announced he would dissolve parliament and call an early vote.

"We will continue to assume our responsibilities as a caretaker government," Santana Lopes said in a televised address to the nation which followed an emergency Cabinet meeting.

"We are not leaving, we are not deserting," said Santana Lopes, who has been in office for less than five months.

Under the terms of Portugal's Constitution, a caretaker government only has the power to legislate on "necessary and urgent" matters needed to maintain the daily running of the country.

On Friday President Jorge Sampaio scheduled early elections for Feb. 20, a year ahead of schedule, arguing that Santana Lopes' government had lost credibility and could no longer guarantee political stability.

A controversial figure even within his own Social Democratic Party due to his celebrity lifestyle and populist tendencies, Santana Lopes took over as prime minister from Jose Manuel Barroso when the latter resigned in July to head the European Commission. At the time Santana Lopes was mayor of Lisbon and the No. 2 in the party.

His brief tenure in office was marked by delays in the start of the school year, accusations of government interference in the media, a downgrade in the credit outlook given by ratings agency Standard and Poor's and the angry resignation of a minister.

The prime minister said he would meet today with the president, who must now decide whether or not to accept the government's resignation.

If he accepts the resignation he can ask the government to stay on in the caretaker role it has already claimed for itself or he can appoint a new government until the early elections are held.

Polls show that a wide majority of Portuguese back the president's decision to announce early elections.

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