by Staff Reporter
SPANISH Prime Minister José María Aznar said yesterday that Spain is a “better and stronger country” than a year ago, even though it has had to tackle major problems over the past 12 months. He was speaking at a Press conference after his talks with King Juan Carlos at Marivent Palace.
Aznar went on to say his government would defend the Basque “Constitution and Statute” against Basque leader Ibarretxe's Plan, a project which he described as “secessionist.” He said that the draft plan was “a project for secession, confrontation to eliminate a large part of Basque society and submission to those who postulate terrorism.” Taking a firm stance against terrorism, he expressed a conviction that it would be brought to an end. “Some may go down on their knees in the face of terrorism. Spain will not,” he said. He said that now the autonomous regions have their highest degree of home rule, there is no call to change the Statutes which regulate them, and he was in favour of maintaining the existing pact. Aznar arrived by helicopter in Majorca from Minorca, where he is holidaying with his family for the interview with the King which lasted for nearly two hours. He praised the Balearic government's decision to repeal the unpopular tourist tax, saying that it would favour the island economy.
Commenting on the controversial motion of censure against the Mayor of Marbella, Julian Muñoz, spearheaded by Jesús Gil, he said that it was a case which “revealed the intentions of the socialist party to resolve its problems at the expense of others.” He said that the socialist party had serious leadership problems.
Aznar later spoke of his government's “full backing” for the Spanish soldiers stationed in Iraq “to defend freedom, democracy and human rights.” He said they were “well-trained professionals and aware of the risk their mission in Iraq involved. He claimed that many Spaniards believed that “in the future, we will have to resolve problems outside our country, to prevent these problems coming here.” He spoke highly of the latest employment figures and the historical record of 16.8 million people affiliated to the social security service which, he said, would guarantee the future wellfare of millions of pensioners. He pointed out that while the social security service had been nearly bankrupt in 1996, by the end of this year it will have a reserve fund of 10'000 million euros, after the ministry of labour provides a cash injection of 1'100 million euros in September. Commenting on the forest fires which have been raging across parts of Spain for the past few days, Aznar said that the co-operation mechanisms between central and regional governments were working full out and he hoped that the situation would soon be restored to normal.

He also said that this year had been a difficult one “with a lot of challenges and a positive balance,” adding “I hope whoever is here next year will be able to say the same.” But he declined to say who would replace him as the Popular Party candidate in the next elections.
He then said a personal goodbye to each of the journalists at Marivent, “as I shall not see you next year.”