Berlusconi resigns during meeting with Italian president

Silvio Berlusconi stepped down Tuesday as premier after weeks of refusing to concede defeat in Italy's closest election ever, paving the way for Romano Prodi to take power with a potentially unmanageable coalition spanning Communists to Christian Democrats.

Berlusconi's resignation after a record-setting five-year stay in the premiership did not completely end Italy's political melodrama, which began with a wafer-thin victory for Prodi in April 9-10 parliamentary elections.

Still up in the air was when Prodi, a former premier and economics professor, would be formally tapped by the Italian president to form the next government, a center-left bloc replacing the conservative coalition of media mogul Berlusconi, reports AP.

Mr. Berlusconi, 69, who had overseen the longest-surviving government here since World War II, had refused for weeks to concede defeat, questioning the results in the tight national elections last month.

But today, the first work day after Mr. Prodi's new government narrowly managed to elect leaders of the new Parliament, Mr. Berlusconi handed his resignation over to Italy's president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Mr. Prodi, as is usual in such handovers, was present, and the two men shook hands earlier in the day at a funeral service for three Italian soldiers killed in Iraq last week.

"Now it's up to us to form a new government in the time scale that will be set out by the president," Mr. Prodi told reporters.

In the days after the election, with Mr. Berlusconi still actively contesting the results, Mr. Ciampi had said that he would leave to his successor the job of asking Mr. Prodi to form a government. Mr. Ciampi, 85, is retiring on May 18 after his seven-year term, informs New York Times.

Mr Prodi, conscious that financial markets and Italy’s allies want to see prompt action to address the nation’s economic and budgetary problems, would like to crown these successes by forming a government as fast as possible.

But Mr Prodi does not wish to be seen as putting pressure on Mr Ciampi, 85, who commands widespread respect in Italy and who served as finance minister in Mr Prodi’s 1996-98 government.

“It’s a difficult choice. Ciampi is capable of making it himself. Whoever tries to tug him by the jacket will make his task even more difficult,” said Rocco Buttiglione, the outgoing culture minister in Mr Berlusconi’s government, according to Financial Times.

O.Ch.