updated 12/11/2004 5:06:53 PM ET 2004-12-11T22:06:53

Portugal's conservative government is quitting before early elections set for February, Prime Minister Pedro Santana Lopes said Saturday, a day after the country's president dissolved parliament.

The move, announced after an emergency Cabinet meeting, is a rebuke to Socialist President Jorge Sampaio and deepens the country's political crisis. Sampaio said Friday he was dissolving Parliament and convening early elections on Feb. 20.

Sampaio announced last week his intentions to call elections after weeks of feuding within the Cabinet, combined with public gaffes and organizational miscues besetting Santana Lopes' conservative administration since it took office in July.

"It would be bad if, after last night's words from the president, we kept the same posture and attitude," Santana Lopes said. "We will undertake our responsibilities, but as a caretaker government. I present my resignation as head of this government."

If the government stayed in office until the Feb. 20 ballot, it still could have enacted legislation already approved by Parliament.

Government ministers are expected to keep working until the election, but they only will manage the daily running of the country. The ministers cannot carry out pay rises and tax cuts foreseen in their 2005 state budget, which was approved by Parliament last week.

Sampaio spoke about the announced dissolution Friday after previous meetings with opposition parties and the council of state.

"This government's negative succession of incidents and declarations, contradictions and discoordinations in whole led me to dissolve the Parliament as the only solution for a grave crisis of credibility and instability," he said in a televised address to the nation.

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