Spain PM takes over as Socialist International chief

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was on Friday named head of the Socialist International (SI) as the movement of centre-left parties gathered in Madrid for a three-day congress.

The telegenic 50-year-old takes over from former Greek prime minister George Papandreou as head of the SI, a movement grouping 132 political parties from around the world.

There was no vote for the appointment as Sanchez -- who has led Spain's Socialist Party since 2014 -- was the only candidate running, with his nomination welcomed by a show of applause.

Sanchez told the delegates he was taking over "with one intention: for this organisation to become a big ideological platform for the progressive international movement".

A self-described feminist whose cabinet is largely made up of women, Sanchez also reassured his female colleagues that as head of SI, he would "fight in favour of gender parity".

The nomination could prove to be a springboard for Sanchez to take up a major post on the world stage.

Former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres led SI before going on to head the United Nations refugee agency in 2005 then later becoming UN secretary-general in 2017.

Sanchez's appointment comes a year before Spain holds a general election which polls suggest he will struggle to win.

"While symbolic... this post could be a way (for Sanchez) to regain credit among (Spanish) voters by presenting himself as influential on the world stage," Pablo Simon, a political scientist at Madrid's Carlos III University, told AFP this week.

"But it also could be that he plans on capitalising on this network of international contacts" which the post offers to "play a prominent role later" in a top global body, he added.

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