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PP leader goads Zapatero: "How long must we prolong the agony?"

Prime minister uses final state-of-the-nation debate to defend his legacy and call for a "collective effort" to help country exit crisis

Far from providing any potential solutions to Spain's economic crisis, Tuesday's state-of-the-nation debate turned into a blame game in which the opposition insisted on early elections and the head of the Socialist government defended his legacy.

The leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), Mariano Rajoy, focused his address on the bad economic indicators, including 21-percent unemployment, a high deficit and virtually no growth. "Must we prolong this agony or call early elections?" asked Rajoy. "Time is of the essence."

Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who has already announced he will not seek a third term when this legislature ends next March, accused his opponent of not making any specific proposals to fix the economy.

"It doesn't seem very hard to ask for elections, but it is hard to present some kind of alternative idea, a program, a reform- something specific regarding your stand on the issues, right here before all Spaniards," said Zapatero, who also accused Rajoy of not supporting any of the government's reforms aimed at bringing Spain's deficit in line with euro-zone rules.

Rajoy said that reforms are necessary, but that "the Zapatero administration is not going to make them." Citing Spain's public debt of 67 percent of GDP and 45-percent unemployment among Spanish youth, Rajoy said that "we are poorer, more indebted and ever-further away from Europe's leading nations."

In his last state-of-the-nation debate, Zapatero looked to the future and asked for a joint effort to get Spain out of the crisis. "Collective effort and institutional cooperation never made so much sense in Spain as they do now. [...] At stake is our wellbeing for the coming decades. Spain is going to overcome a tough test, in a very complicated European and international context. We need to go all the way. And we will know how to do it," said the Socialist leader in a clear reference to continued pressure against Spain in the financial markets, where the country is considered one of the at-risk peripheral states, along with default-endangered Greece.