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MADRID (Reuters) - The leader of Spain's Socialists, Pedro Sanchez, suggested on Friday that he could resign if a party assembly votes against him on Saturday and decides to abstain in a future confidence vote to let acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stay in power.
The Socialists, the main opposition party, have seen their leadership torn in two after 17 members of its 38-strong executive committee resigned on Wednesday and called for Sanchez to stand down to end the country's nine-month political deadlock.
Sanchez has led a stand-off with Rajoy's conservative People's Party (PP) - which won the most votes but fell short of a majority in two inconclusive elections - that has frustrated repeated attempts to form a government and now points to a possible third election in December.
Sanchez, in his first public comments since the walk-out, told a news conference that he would never agree to abstaining and he would vote on Saturday to open up a leadership race, which he would likely win with support from the grassroots.
"If the party assembly decides that it is necessary to opt for the abstention, I cannot administer a decision that I do not share," he said.
It was unclear whether this meant that he would resign and he did not take questions.
The Socialist rebels hope that by ousting Sanchez, who has presided over a slump in the party's support, they could seek ways to end the stalemate, including a potential abstention in a confidence vote on allowing Rajoy a second term.
They say the party's executive committee should now be absolved given less than half of its members remain and a form of caretaker administration ushered in. A party conference would then have to pick a new leader in a few weeks.
The Socialist Party is pivotal to breaking the impasse because it holds 85 out of the 350 seats in parliament's lower house.
Reporting by Angus Berwick; Editing by Angus MacSwan