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Mário Soares

Mário Soares

Dr Mário Soares (born 7 December 1924), Portuguese politician, was born in Lisbon, and graduated in history, philosophy and law from the University of Lisbon. He became a university teacher in 1957, but his activities in opposition to the dictatorship of Antonio Salazar led to repeated arrests. He was active in resistance groups such as the Movement for National Unity Against Fascism and the Movement for Democratic Unity.

In 1968, Soares was arrested by the Salazar regime's secret police, the PIDE, and a military tribunal sentenced him to banishment in the colony of São Tomé in the Gulf of Guinea. He was sent into exile in 1970 and settled in France, where he taught at the Universities of Vincennes, Paris and Rennes. In France he joined the exiled Portuguese socialist movement, Portuguese Socialist Action. In 1973 this group became the Portuguese Socialist Party, and Soares were elected Secretary-General.

On 25 April 1974, elements of the Portuguese Army seized power in Lisbon, overthrowing Salazer's successor, Marcelo Caetano. Soares and other political exiles returned home to heroes' welcomes, to celebrate what was called the "Carnation Revolution."

In the provisional government which was formed after the revolution, led by the Movement of the Armed Forces (MFA), Soares became Minister for Overseas Negotiations, charged with organising the independence of Portugal's colonial empire. Among other encounters, he met with Samora Machel, the leader of Frelimo, to negotiate the independence of Mozambique.

Within months of the revolution, however, it became apparent that the Portuguese Communist Party, allied with a radical group of officers in the MFA, was attempting to extend its control over the government. The Prime Minister, Vasco dos Santos Gonçalves, was accused of being an agent of the Communists, and a bitter confrontation developed between the Socialists and Communists over control of the newspaper República.

Late in 1974 a ruling radical triumvirate of Gonçalves, General Francisco da Costa Gomes and the security chief, General Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, took power. Riots and demonstrations broke out in the conservative north of the country. Soares defended the gains of the revolution while firmly resisting the advance of the Communists and the attempts by the MFA to establish a permanent role for the military in government. In September 1975 Gonçalves was forced to resign.

Democratic government was finally established when national elections were held in April 1976. The Socialists won a plurity of seats and Soares became Prime Minister. But the deep hostility between the Socialists and the Communists made a majority left-wing government impossible, and Soares formed a weak minority government, which lasted only two years, until he resigned in 1978.

The wave of left-wing sentiment which followed the 1974 had now dissipated, and a succession of conservative governments held office until 1983, when Soares again became Prime Minister, holding office until late 1985. His main achivement in office was negotiating Portugal's entry into the European Union.

In March 1986 Soares was elected President of Portugal, the country's first civilian head of state for 60 years. This was a largely ceremonial role, which Soares used to promote human rights in Portugal and internationally. For most his term in office Portugal was governed by the conservative Aníbal Cavaco Silva, but the Socialists returned to office under António Guterres in 1995.

Soares retired in 1996, but in 1999 he headed the Socialist ticket in elections to the European Parliament, where he continues to serve. He is the recipient of a number of human rights awards and honorary degrees from many universities.