Italy's Berlusconi resigns to make way for new govt

Italy’s Premier Silvio Berlusconi resigned on Tuesday, paving the way for a centre-left government led by Romano Prodi after weeks of refusing to acknowledge the outcome of last month’s elections.

During the 30-minute meeting at the Quirinale Palace, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi asked Berlusconi to remain temporarily as caretaker prime minister, the president’s office said in a statement.

“The president of the republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, has met this morning with Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who has handed in the resignation of the Cabinet over which he presides,” the statement said.

After the meeting, Berlusconi returned to his private residence and told about 20 flag-waving supporters of his Forza Italia party that “everything is fine”. He refused to make any other comment.

Berlusconi, the conservative billionaire media mogul who was elected in 2001, has been the longest-serving premier in post-war Italy. He had steadily refused to concede defeat since the April 9 and 10 elections.

“Democracy goes on, sometimes slowly, but it does,” said Prodi, welcoming Berlusconi’s resignation.
“It is a very important step.”

“I hope the political vacuum doesn’t go on for too long,” he said. Prodi also said he hopes he will be able to “exchange all information and advice necessary in such cases” with Berlusconi.

It was not clear if Ciampi would immediately give Prodi—whose centre-left coalition scored a narrow victory over Berlusconi and his conservative allies at the elections—the mandate to form a government.

It is up to the president to issue the mandate, but Ciampi, whose term expires on May 18, had indicated he wants the next president to assume that duty. There has been widespread speculation, however, that Ciampi might change his mind to put an end to the political delay.

Prodi said he is still working on his Cabinet line-up, which already has provoked some grumbling in his coalition. “My aim is to be ready, but I have no date to suggest to President Ciampi,” Prodi told reporters on Monday.

“If he gives me the mandate soon, I have to have the [Cabinet] list in my pocket. If, instead, the mandate is given to me a few days later, I’ll keep it [in the pocket] a few more days,” he said.

Ciampi on Monday stressed the need for Italy, including its politicians, to get down to business quickly to revive the country’s zero-growth economy. He said political tensions must ease if the nation is to work together on that goal.

Berlusconi had vowed to fight the election results through legal challenges. He also has pledged to lead fierce political opposition in the legislature.

“A cycle is over. These five years are over,” Berlusconi’s Justice Minister, Roberto Castelli, told reporters after the Cabinet meeting in which Berlusconi also reviewed the output of the government’s five-year term. “We will go on. We will be the opposition.”

One thing hanging over Berlusconi is a possible indictment on charges of bribery and tax fraud.

Berlusconi did not enjoy immunity from prosecution as head of the government, and he would have faced the same risk of indictment had he won the elections. His government had spearheaded a law granting immunity from prosecution to the country’s top five office-holders, which would include himself, but the Constitutional Court overturned it two years ago.

As a deputy in Parliament—which he remains—Berlusconi enjoys immunity from searches, mail seizure and wiretapping, but not from trial.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press reporters Marta Falconi and Ariel David contributed to this report

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