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Spain’s PM faces flak from polls rivals

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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks during a press conference at the end of an EU Summit in Brussels, Belgium, on Dec. 14, 2018. Xinhua/Ye Pingfan

MADRID (AFP) – Spain’s outgoing prime minister faced an onslaught of criticism Monday from his right-wing rivals over Catalonia’s secession crisis in a testy four-way debate ahead of elections, while he warned them against cozying up to the far-right.

The debate on Spain’s public television brought together the four main candidates for Sunday’s general election – Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, conservative Popular Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado, Albert Rivera of centre-right party Ciudadanos and Pablo Iglesias of far-left Podemos.

“Those who want to break up Spain have their favourite candidate in Sanchez,” Mr Casado said, standing behind a lectern in the studio, the three other candidates in a semi-circle next to him.

“I want a prime minister who doesn’t kneel down in front of those who want to break Spain,” added Rivera, a framed photo of Sanchez talking to Catalonia’s separatist leader Quim Torra on his lectern in front of him.

The northeastern region’s independence drive is an explosive issue ahead of the elections, which Mr Sanchez called after his minority government failed to get support for its 2019 budget.

Mr Casado and Mr Rivera both accuse Mr Sanchez of betraying Spain for attempting to negotiate with Catalan separatists since he came to power in June after ousting then conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy with a no-confidence motion.

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