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Italian premier resigns after vote loss

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080124/ap_on_re_eu/italy_politics Italian premier resigns after vote loss By FRANCES D EMILIO, Associated Press Writer 22 minutes
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 24, 2008
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080124/ap_on_re_eu/italy_politics

      Italian premier resigns after vote loss

      By FRANCES D'EMILIO, Associated Press Writer 22
      minutes ago

      ROME - Italian Premier Romano Prodi resigned Thursday
      after his center-left coalition lost a Senate
      confidence vote, a humiliating end to a 20-month-old
      government plagued by infighting.

      Calling early elections or asking a politician to try
      to form another government are among President Giorgio
      Napolitano's options as head of state. Until he
      decides, Prodi will stay on in a caretaker role.

      Elected in April 2006, Prodi has had a shaky
      government from nearly the start. It lurched toward
      collapse this week after a small Christian Democrat
      party, whose votes were vital to his Senate majority,
      yanked its support in the latest coalition spat.

      Prodi, a 68-year-old former economics professor, went
      into the vote with the numbers stacked against him
      after a few additional senators in his coalition
      parties said they would cast "no" votes.

      The government lost 161-156 after a fiery debate
      during which one senator was spat upon, fainted and
      had to be carried out on a stretcher.

      Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire
      media magnate who lost to Prodi in 2006 and is eager
      to return to office, said Napolitano should call early
      elections, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

      "We need to go to the polls in the shortest time
      possible without delay," Berlusconi was quoted as
      saying outside his Rome residence.

      But the leader of the largest party in the government,
      Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, contended that early
      elections would only "push the country into a
      situation of dramatic crisis."

      Veltroni, the head of a leftist group of former
      Communists and pro-Vatican centrists, is considered
      the likely candidate for the left.

      The presidential palace said Napolitano would start
      consulting with political leaders Friday on what to do
      next.

      Berlusconi said his conservative lawmakers would veto
      any push for a "technocrat" government, an idea
      supported by lawmakers who want Parliament to enact
      reforms of the electoral system which is blamed for
      contributing to Italy's chronic political instability.

      Although decades of revolving-door politics has
      produced 61 governments since World War II, Italy's
      political climate had stabilized in recent years, with
      Berlusconi's government lasting for a full five-year
      term starting in 2001.

      On Wednesday, Prodi won a confidence vote in the lower
      Chamber of Deputies, a safe gamble because his
      coalition forces have a comfortable majority there.

      In a final appeal for support to senators, Prodi said
      holding the risky Senate vote was "not a gesture of
      stubbornness but of being consistent."

      Prodi, known for his unemotional speaking style, made
      a straightforward appeal to the senators, asking them
      to let his government continue so it could carry out
      badly needed reforms.

      Among other reforms he wants is an overhaul of the
      electoral system, which is blamed for giving small
      parties disproportionate weight in fragile coalitions.

      But Prodi lost his gamble that allies might close
      ranks and that Italy's seven senators-for-life could
      rescue him as in the past.

      During the debate, one senator, Christian Democrat
      Nuccio Cusumano, stood up after Prodi's speech to
      announce he was breaking with his party to vote in
      favor of the government.

      Some lawmakers from his UDEUR party — the group that
      defected from Prodi's coalition earlier this week —
      responded with calls of "traitor" that resounded
      through the Senate.

      Cusumano was spat upon, fainted, and was carried out
      on a stretcher. He returned to vote "yes" a few hours later.
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