Zapatero flies into row over trip to see wife at opera

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For a busy husband to take time out to hear his wife sing with one of the world's most renowned conductors might seem merely the act of a considerate partner.

But when the Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero chose to use his official plane to make the journey across Europe, he was pilloried for, as they saw it, going well beyond the call of duty.

Mr Zapatero flew in the Spanish equivalent of Air Force One from Madrid to Berlin to see his wife, the soprano Sonsoles Espinosa, perform with Daniel Barenboim in a concert dedicated to peace in the Middle East.

The precise cost to the Spanish taxpayer of Mr Zapatero's night at the opera has not yet been calculated, but when details of the journey emerged, they caused tempers to run as high as some of the notes which Mrs Espinosa reachedwhen she sang in the chorus of the West-East Divan Orchestra.

Politicians from the conservative opposition Popular Party have accused Mr Zapatero of misusing public funds.

They said the Spanish premier was guilty of "hypocrisy" because it was his own socialist government which brought in a code of conduct to avoid the misuse of public funds by politicians.

Mr Zapatero's aides had said the Prime Minister was invited in an official capacity to the Middle East-orientated concert. However, Spanish diplomatic sources in Berlin told the Spanish daily El Mundo that Mr Zapatero came to the German capital in a "private capacity".

Later, officials from the premier's socialist party said Mr Zapatero went in a private capacity and simply used the official plane for "security reasons".

Ana Pastor, of the Popular Party, said Mr Zapatero's aides could not give two explanations for the same journey. "The Prime Minister cannot at the same time be in Berlin in a private and a public capacity," said Mrs Pastor.

"It was Zapatero who approved an ethical code which would censure the improper use of public funds. Is he going to stand by that code?"

Mr Zapatero flew to Berlin last weekend for the concert, which was held in Weimar on Monday night, then returned home the same night.

His wife, Ms Espinosa, who is a successful soprano in Spain, had travelled to Germany last week.

It is not the first time Mr Zapatero has landed himself in political hot water for apparently breaking the same laws he has introduced.

In January, during tense negotiations over plans to grant greater autonomy for the north-eastern region of Catalonia, Mr Zapatero was accused of smoking in La Moncloa, the Spanish equivalent of 10 Downing Street.

Only weeks earlier the Prime Minister's own government had introduced a tough ban on smoking in public areas, including all government offices.