MADRID (Reuters) - Talks among three Spanish opposition parties on Thursday made no progress towards forming a coalition government, a senior party official said, increasing the likelihood of a second general election in June.
The opposition Socialists, market-friendly newcomer Ciudadanos and leftist upstart Podemos met for two-and-a-half hours in an attempt to end over three months of stalemate following an inconclusive Dec. 20 general election.
Unless parties can form a government by May 2, parliament will be dissolved and fresh elections called. Polls show another election is likely to return a similarly fragmented vote.
"I think we can conclude that the differences between Ciudadanos and Podemos are too great to lead to any agreement," said Jose Manuel Villegas, vice-general secretary of Ciudadanos, told a news conference following the meeting.
The opposition Socialists, led by Pedro Sanchez, need the support of both Podemos and Ciudadanos to form a coalition. Sanchez was not present at the talks and nor was the Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera.
Podemos and Ciudadanos emerged to answer Spaniards' call for a fresh approach to politics they tired of the center-right People's Party (PP) and the opposition Socialist PSOE, which have alternated in power since Spain emerged from dictatorship in the late 1970s.
But the newcomers disagree on issues ranging from allowing the northeastern region of Catalonia to hold a referendum on independence to tax hikes and public spending increases.
Harsh austerity measures implemented by the PP after the European debt crisis, coupled with a string of political corruption cases, have turned voters away from mainstream parties.
The Socialists said late on Thursday they would continue to try to form a coalition.
"We believe an agreement is still possible and we can still avoid an election," said Socialist spokesman Antonio Hernando.
Podemos said it would make a statement on the talks on Friday.
Writing by Sonya Dowsett; editing by Andrew Roche