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Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gestures during a parliamentary plenary session on the Gurtel corruption case dealing with the alleged illegal financing scheme within his conservative People's Party (PP) in Madrid, Spain, August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Paul Hanna


By Inmaculada Sanz

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's prime minister challenged lawmakers to table a no confidence vote in his government as he answered questions over alleged illegal financing of his conservative People's Party.

Mariano Rajoy defended his record on fighting corruption during testy exchanges with lawmakers at the hearing on Wednesday, called at a politically delicate time when he no longer has a majority in parliament.

"You are a prime minister under suspicion," Socialist party spokeswoman Margarita Robles told the special session - though Rajoy himself is not accused of wrongdoing.

Rajoy did not directly address the allegations about his party, saying he had already given explanations to parliament related to corruption cases on 52 occasions and two commissions had been set up to look into accusations.

"Reforms count more than reproaches in the fight against corruption," he said.

Underlining his fragile position, the special session was called by the opposition and Rajoy only appeared after former political allies joined with left-wing parties to demand he answer questions.

Allegations of a PP slush fund have plagued the party for years.

Rajoy became the first sitting prime minister in Spain to give evidence in a trial in July where he denied all knowledge of such a funding arrangement.

Opposition parties have repeatedly called for Rajoy to step down, but both the Socialists and the anti-austerity Podemos party have previously failed in their bids to oust him while working within a fractured parliament.

Rajoy returned to power for a second term last October with a severely diminished mandate, meaning he has to scrape together votes to get laws through.

(Writing By Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Jesús Aguado and Andrew Heavens)

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