Socialist barons call for minister to quit

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The Independent Online

in Madrid

The crisis over revelations this week that Spain's equivalent of MI5 illegally taped the telephone conversations of a host of public figures, including King Juan Carlos, has prompted an unprecedented mutiny in the ranks of the governing Socialists.

The party's regional barons have come together to call for the head of their own deputy prime minister, Narcis Serra, who was defence minister when the buggings took place between 1984 and 1991.

The Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, has accepted the resignation of the head of the security service Cesid, General Alonso Manglano, nearly a week after the fiercely anti-government newspaper El Mundo broke the story. But this belated gesture is unlikely to calm the political storm that has blown up over the scandal.

Mr Serra, Mr Gonzalez's right-hand man, appeared in a sombre mood after a meeting of the parliamentary secret services committee late on Thursday night. "For the moment, I am not planning to resign," he said.

The illegal bugging is perhaps the most serious scandal to have buffeted Mr Gonzalez's Socialist government so far, in the eyes of the public, whose howls of indignation for once have matched those from the chattering classes. Cesid's actions desecrate two of the most valued cornerstones of Spanish life: the individual's right to personal privacy, which is enshrined in the constitution, and the untouchable figure of the King.

The actual taping, an enterprise of Orwellian - or Francoist - proportions, is shocking enough in the eyes of most Spaniards, but by subsequently allowing the 93 tapes to be leaked to the press, the Cesid is widely judged to have been both corrupt and incompetent.

The government admitted Cesid's actions were a grave mistake that violated Spaniards' constitutional rights and the organisation's own principles of security, but insists it did not authorise the tapes. "The government never organised the taping of these telephone conversations, did not know of their existence until they were reported in the media and of course did not authorise the use of the material that was taped," a spokesman said after yesterday's cabinet meeting. The opposition parties have fallen upon this latest scandal with relish.

Mr Serra is due to explain matters before parliament on Wednesday, an extraordinarily leisurely timescale given the intensity of the crisis.

But voices within the parliamentary Socialist party say that a backbench revolt early next week may jolt Mr Gonzalez out of his torpor.