Spanish leader looks set to secure extension to state of emergency

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks during a news conference after taking part in a conference call with European leaders at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, March 10, 2020 – REUTERS/Sergio Perez/File Photo

MADRID: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez looks set to secure enough parliamentary votes on Wednesday to extend a state of emergency for two more weeks as the country exits a lockdown imposed to control one of the world's worst coronavirus outbreaks.

The parliamentary wrangling on how to orchestrate the exit from a lockdown which has devastated the economy and led to huge job losses underlines the fragile political environment in a country that has faced four national elections in four years.

Sanchez's weak coalition government has secured the support of the regional Basque nationalist party PNV, in addition to the centre-right Ciudadanos party, which said late on Tuesday it would back an extension to the state of emergency set to end expire on Saturday.

This guarantees enough votes to approve the decree in an increasingly fraught political environment where the government has lost the support of opposition conservatives, the People's Party (PP), for any further extensions.

Small businesses such as hairdressers started to open this week with restrictions while Spaniards, under strict confinement since mid-March, are now allowed out of their houses for exercise under timetables.

The decree will be the fourth two-week extension to the state of emergency which Sanchez says is necessary to restrict movement as the country tentatively emerges from what was one of Europe's strictest lockdowns.

The coronavirus epidemic has killed more than 25,000 people in Spain.

The economy shrunk by its biggest amount on record, 5.2%, in the first three months of 2020 due to the impact of the crisis.

With the second quarter likely to be even more painful, the go