Socialist leaders on Friday formally approved their first alliance with the Communists since the Spanish civil war, in a bid to oust Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in a March 12 election. Socialist candidate Joaquin Almunia hailed it as the “start of an unforgettable campaign”, but Josep Pique, chief spokesman for Spain's centre-right government, dismissed it as a “pact between losers”. A unanimous vote by the Socialist Party's federal committee gave the final go-ahead for the deal negotiated earlier this week, guaranteeing Communist backing if the Socialists win the general election. The alliance - an attempt to emulate the success of France's ruling leftist coalition - poses a new threat to Aznar's Popular Party, which holds an opinion poll lead of four to seven per cent over the main opposition Socialists.

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