Spain interior minister refuses to resign over smear allegations

A man holds a placard reading "Som Sobirans" (We are sovereign) during a demonstration calling for Spain's interior minister to resign. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Demonstrators against Mr Diaz in Barcelona waved Catalan flags and held placards reading "We are sovereign"

The Spanish Interior Minister, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, has refused to resign after leaked tapes appeared to link him to efforts to smear separatist politicians in Catalonia.

The audio appears to feature Mr Diaz and Catalonia's top anti-fraud official discussing ways to discredit pro-independence parties.

The recordings were reportedly made two years ago when Catalonia held a referendum on independence from Spain.

Spain votes in elections on Sunday.

Polls suggest Mr Diaz's conservative Popular Party (PP) is expected to win the biggest share of the vote but not enough to form an overall majority.

Opposition party leaders are among those who have called for him to resign, following publication of the tapes by the Publico website (in Spanish).

Hundreds of protesters, many carrying Catalan independence flags, staged a demonstration in the regional capital Barcelona on Wednesday evening, calling for Mr Diaz to go.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The allegations relate to a crucial time in the history of the Catalan independence movement
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Fernandez Diaz (file image) said allegations he had committed a crime were slanderous

In the tape, Mr Diaz is apparently heard in conversation with Daniel de Alfonso, head of the anti-fraud office in Catalonia.

Asked by Spanish radio about the recording, the minister said: "I remember having had this meeting, but as for the content of these conversations, I remember the general gist, which was to meet a magistrate that heads up the anti-fraud office of the regional government, whose mission is to fight fraud and corruption.

"To claim that an interior minister is conspiring against members of Catalonia's government is surreal."

In other remarks, Mr Diaz called the tapes "biased, out of context and edited" and said it was "an insult and slander" to accuse him of conspiracy, according to El Pais daily (in Spanish).

Sunday's elections will be Spain's second in six months, after December's vote failed to produce a government.

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Media captionSarah Rainsford reports: "For the first time in Spain's history, people have been forced to go back to the ballot box"

The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, leader of the PP, remains in place in a caretaker role.

Mr Rajoy said his colleague had given a "clear" explanation and did not need to resign.

"As we're four days before the end of the campaign, someone is trying to take advantage and fish in troubled waters to see what comes out," he said.