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SPANISH Labour Minister Celestino Corbacho will quit his post to help the ruling Socialist party's (PSOE) campaign in regional elections in the eastern region of Catalonia, his ministry said yesterday.

The increasingly unpopular prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, faces tough challenges in regional elections across the country this year and next, seen as a test of support for the PSOE whose popularity has also plunged. “The PSOE electoral commmittee will possibly name Corbacho in the candidate lists for the Catalonian elections and he will leave the ministry,” a ministry spokesman said.

No replacement has been named for Corbacho.
Zapatero, whose term ends in 2012, has imposed deep spending cuts and a labour reform this year in an attempt to cut the soaring cost of government borrowing and reassure nervous investors Spain will not suffer a similar debt crisis to Greece.

Catalonia, Spain's most populous autonomous region and home to Spain's second city Barcelona, will probably hold elections in November, though a date has not yet been set.

The Labour Ministry would not say when Corbacho will stand down, but El Pais newspaper said it would probably be in October, after a general strike against wage and pension cuts set for Sept. 29. In a recent poll commissioned by Instituto Opina on behalf of Cadena Ser radio, the opposition People's Party had an eight point lead over the Socialists.

Zapatero's approval rating was 3.55 (on a scale of 0-10), compared with 3.67 for the opposition leader, Mariano Rajoy.

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