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Spain: Opposition party to choose new leader in April

February 24, 2022 GMT
FILE - Conservative Madrid regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso, left, and Popular party leader Pablo Casado wave outside the popular party headquarters in Madrid, Spain, on May 4, 2021. The leader of Spain’s main opposition party, Casado, will meet fellow conservative heavyweights on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, with his future at risk amid an ugly clash with a Popular Party rival that included public accusations of corruption and espionage. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)
FILE - Conservative Madrid regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso, left, and Popular party leader Pablo Casado wave outside the popular party headquarters in Madrid, Spain, on May 4, 2021. The leader of Spain’s main opposition party, Casado, will meet fellow conservative heavyweights on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, with his future at risk amid an ugly clash with a Popular Party rival that included public accusations of corruption and espionage. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)
FILE - Conservative Madrid regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso, left, and Popular party leader Pablo Casado wave outside the popular party headquarters in Madrid, Spain, on May 4, 2021. The leader of Spain’s main opposition party, Casado, will meet fellow conservative heavyweights on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, with his future at risk amid an ugly clash with a Popular Party rival that included public accusations of corruption and espionage. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)
FILE - Conservative Madrid regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso, left, and Popular party leader Pablo Casado wave outside the popular party headquarters in Madrid, Spain, on May 4, 2021. The leader of Spain’s main opposition party, Casado, will meet fellow conservative heavyweights on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, with his future at risk amid an ugly clash with a Popular Party rival that included public accusations of corruption and espionage. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)
FILE - Conservative Madrid regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso, left, and Popular party leader Pablo Casado wave outside the popular party headquarters in Madrid, Spain, on May 4, 2021. The leader of Spain’s main opposition party, Casado, will meet fellow conservative heavyweights on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, with his future at risk amid an ugly clash with a Popular Party rival that included public accusations of corruption and espionage. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s top opposition leader Pablo Casado will remain in charge of the Popular Party until early April, when party members are expected to choose a new leadership following an ugly internal clash that, according to early surveys, has benefited the conservatives’ rivals in the far right.

In a meeting that stretched until the early hours of Thursday, Casado resisted pressure from senior party members to resign immediately following a public exchange of accusations of corruption with a PP rising star, who in turn accused Casado of political espionage.

In a statement, the party announced that Casado wouldn’t run to lead the party again.

The meeting came a day after Casado’s No. 2, Teodoro García Egea, stepped down as the party’s secretary-general and the calls for Casado to follow him mounted, even from PP members who had been his fierce supporters until hours earlier.

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The turmoil in Spain’s traditional conservative political force promises to mostly benefit the far-right Vox party, according to political observers and polls by newspapers.

On Wednesday, Casado delivered a speech in Spain’s Lower House that had all the elements of a farewell. After he called on the government to “serve the greater good,” Casado received a standing ovation from some of the very party members who have withdrawn their support from his leadership. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s wished Casado “the best in his personal life” in his answer and Casado quickly left the chamber before exercising his right to rebuttal.

The majority of the Popular Party’s regional bosses and Spain’s conservative press are backing the regional chief of northwest Galicia, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, to take over when Casado steps down. Feijóo, a veteran politician seen by many as the consensus figure needed to restore peace quickly, hasn’t formally announced plans to run for the top party job.

Casado, who became the party’s youngest president in late 2018, lost two national elections to Sánchez’s Socialists. But his hold on the party was shattered by his rivalry with Madrid regional president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a former friend whom Casado had brought into the front lines of the party.

After Ayuso scored a huge victory in an election for the region surrounding Spain’s capital last year, she demanded a larger role in the party hierarchy.

Their in-fighting exploded on television in recent days when Díaz Ayuso accused Casado and García Egea of “spying” on her regarding her brother’s role in brokering a face mask contract with her administration during the deadliest days of the pandemic.

Casado fired back a day later by saying that the contract with her brother was “almost illegal” and worthy of a party probe.

Both Ayuso and Casado denied wrongdoing.

At the behest of opposition parties, prosecutors on Tuesday announced a probe on the 1.7-million-euro deal from April 2020.

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Joseph Wilson reported from Barcelona.