Cigar-toting Rajoy jars with Spanish austerity

Thu Sep 27, 2012 3:41pm EDT
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By Julien Toyer

MADRID (Reuters) - Pictures of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy enjoying a cigar on New York's Sixth Avenue were splashed across Spanish newspapers on Thursday as his government prepared to unveil unprecedented austerity measures.

The conservative leader's conspicuous taste for the finer things in life jarred as he asks Spaniards to accept yet more painful sacrifices to restore public finances.

Some Spaniards said on Twitter the photo of Rajoy outside Radio City Music Hall reminded them of Marie-Antoinette, the queen beheaded during the French revolution after reportedly saying that people should eat cake if they had no bread.

A spokeswoman for Rajoy said the prime minister had been on an especially tight schedule in New York -- meeting other leaders, addressing the United Nations and giving media interviews -- and the short walk was his only breather.

But the image of him breathing cigar smoke recalled another incident that raised doubts about Rajoy's sensitivity for public opinion.

The day after Spain sought a 100 billion euro ($128 billion)lifeline for its banks in June, he took a few short minutes to announce at a news conference that he had saved the country, then flew to Poland with his son to watch the national team playing soccer.

Many newspapers ran pictures of Rajoy cheering the first goal on their front pages the next day alongside the news of the European bailout for debt-laden Spanish banks.

Now, as the country braces for another likely rescue package - this time for the state - with one in four Spanish workers unemployed, his cigar-toting lifestyle seems to jar even more with a grim, angry national mood.   Continued...

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy arrives to speak at the Council of the Americas in New York September 26, 2012. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri