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Has Spain opposition leader bid farewell amid internal spat?

February 23, 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)

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The leader of Spain’s main opposition party, Pablo Casado, will meet fellow conservative heavyweights on Wednesday night with his future at risk amid an ugly clash with a Popular Party rival that included public accusations of corruption and political espionage.

The meeting scheduled for 1900 GMT (2 p.m. EST) comes 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.

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

Casado, 41, appeared in Parliament on Wednesday morning for the weekly questions for the government. After a short and solemn speech in which 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.

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After Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s wished Casado “the best in his personal life” in his answer, Casado quickly left the chamber before exercising his right to rebuttal.

It is unclear what Casado’s next move will be. He could try to cling to power until a party congress in the coming weeks where he could seek reelection, but that seems quixotic.

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 if 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, who scored a huge victory in a local election for the region surrounding Spain’s capital last year and wanted a larger role.

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 facemask 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 facemask deal from April 2020.

Casado’s cohorts sided in mass with Ayuso, the party’s brightest star.

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Aritz Parra contributed to this report from Madrid.