Zapatero expected to reshuffle government in response to crisis

Zapatero expected to reshuffle government in response to crisis Madrid  - Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was Monday widely expected to reshuffle his government at top level this week in response to the country's deepening recession.

Pedro Solbes, who has held the economy portfolio since Zapatero became prime minister in 2004, will probably be replaced by Public Administrations Minister Elena Salgado, according to several media, including the daily El Pais, which is seen as being close to the government.

Salgado's portfolio was expected to be given to Andalusian regional Prime Minister Manuel Chaves, for whom the new post of a third vice-premier would also be created.

Jose Blanco, second-in-charge of Zapatero's Socialist Party, was deemed likely to replace Infrastructure Minister Magdalena Alvarez, one of the most criticized members of Zapatero's cabinet.

Solbes has also faced increasing criticism over what was perceived as attempts to downplay the economic crisis and slowness in responding to it.

The Bank of Spain said last week the economy would contract 3 per cent this year, in contrast to a government forecast of 1.6 per cent.

Unemployment is expected to continue rising from the current level of 14 per cent, already the highest in the European Union.

With the eventual appointments of party heavyweights such as Blanco and Chaves, Zapatero would want to strengthen the political profile of his government in response to the crisis, analysts said.

Zapatero, who declined to comment on the eventual reshuffle during a visit to Turkey on Sunday, was expected to announce it Tuesday or Wednesday. (dpa)