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6 ministers out in Spain reshuffle

The opposition has criticised Aznar for enacting laws without their support  

MADRID, Spain -- Six ministers have been removed from Spain's cabinet in Jose Maria Aznar's biggest reshuffle since becoming prime minister six years ago.

Foreign Minister Josep Pique is being replaced by Ana Palacio, head of the European Parliament's civil rights, justice and interior committee and MEP since 1994.

Palacio will take over talks with his British counterpart, Jack Straw, over the disputed UK colony of Gibraltar.

Pique and Straw were due to meet on Friday in Madrid, but it is up to Palacio whether to keep the appointment.

Pique now has the science and technology portfolio and will oversee the telecoms sector.

Another change is the replacement of ex-Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy with former Justice Minister Angel Acebes.

The Interior Ministry is in charge of state security, and Acebes -- like the rest of the cabinet -- is a hard-line opponent of Basque separatism.

A new law designed to ban the radical Batasuna party, seen as the political wing of the armed Basque separatist group ETA, was recently brought in by Acebes.

Rajoy will continue as deputy prime minister and take on the presidency and government spokesman portfolios.

Rodrigo Rato and Cristobal Montoro remain as economy and finance ministers, respectively.

Javier Arenas, general secretary of the ruling conservative Popular Party, joins the cabinet as public administrations minister. Arenas is seen as an aggressive spin doctor.

Aznar, who took office in 1996, told King Juan Carlos of the changes on Tuesday. They are expected to take place in a royal ceremony on Wednesday.

The next general election is due in two years. Aznar, whose party commands an absolute majority in parliament, has said he won't seek re-election. Cabinet posts are seen as a stepping stone to the premiership.

The reshuffle follows strong criticism of Aznar by opposition parties for enacting some laws, such as recent labour reform, without their support. Trade unions called a one-day general strike last month following the reform decree.




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