MADRID - The Spanish parliament plans to meet in the coming days to discuss whether to confirm Pedro Sanchez as prime minister of a minority government, while his Socialist Party is seeking the support of a Catalan pro-independence party. The speaker of the lower house, Meritxell Batet, is expected to make a formal call on Thursday for a debate and vote on Sanchez, parliament’s Twitter account said, and lawmakers would meet on Jan. 4, 5 and 7. Spain has been in political gridlock without a proper government for most of the year after two inconclusive elections. On Monday, Socialist Party leader Sanchez and the head of the far-left party Unidas Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, restated their intention to form a coalition. Since the two parties together fall short of a majority with 155 seats in a 350-member parliament, the Socialist Party is currently courting the Catalan separatist party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya. The Socialists need the ERC’s 13 lawmakers to at least abstain in order to secure acting prime minister Sanchez’s confirmation in office in a second vote on Jan. 7. ERC’s governing body is scheduled to meet on Thursday to decide whether to facilitate Sanchez’s confirmation in office. On Tuesday, the Catalan newspaper Ara said the Socialist Party agreed that a Sanchez-led government would hold a dialogue with the regional Catalan government and then put the results of that dialogue to the Catalan public. ERC was not immediately available for comment on the report, while Jose Luis Abalos, a senior Socialist, said the party’s executive body still had to meet this week to discuss how the future administration would deal with the conflict with Catalonia.

China confident of Central Asia support before Pompeo visit

BEIJING - Attempts to sow discord over Chinese policies in its Xinjiang region will fail, China’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday, ahead of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to neighbouring central Asia. Many Western countries have expressed deep concern at reports China has interned Muslims in its far western region of Xinjiang in harsh conditions, with Pompeo particularly critical. Beijing says it is running a vocational training programme to fight extremism. Next week Pompeo visits Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, close friends of China which have not criticized its policies in Xinjiang although their citizens have close cultural and religious connections to the people of Xinjiang. Speaking at a daily news briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Central Asian countries were better placed to assess the situation than Washington. “On the real situation in Xinjiang, the five Central Asian countries have an even better understanding than the United States and greater right to speak about it,” Geng said. The United Nations and human rights groups estimate that between 1 million and 2 million people, mostly ethnic Uighur Muslims, have been detained. China strongly denies any mistreatment.

The United States had already tried and failed to “throw dirty water” at China during a meeting earlier in the year with Central Asia foreign ministers, Geng said. “If the United States once again tries to get up to its old tricks, it will certainly still be futile for them. On the Xinjiang issue the Central Asia countries understand and support China’s position, and positively appraise China’s counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures.”