WORLD / Europe

Challenger earns narrow victory in Italy
Updated: 2006-04-12 07:21

A former European Commission president, Prodi said his government would put Europe at the center of its policies.

"This is a profoundly European result, and as I said, Europe will be the center of the policy of my government," he said, also promising "constructive relations with the United States."

Prodi was strongly opposed to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, while Berlusconi supported Washington and sent 3,000 troops after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

But Italians were mainly preoccupied with finances, not Iraq, when they cast their ballots Sunday and Monday.

Berlusconi, 69, a billionaire whose business empire includes TV networks, failed to revitalize a flat economy but promised to abolish a homeowner's property tax. Prodi, 66, said he would revive an inheritance tax abolished by Berlusconi, but only for the richest; he also promised to cut payroll taxes.

On Tuesday, Prodi said he would not install a new government until parliament names a new president in early May. In Italy, the president gives the winner the mandate to form a new government. President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi's term expires next month.

Prodi said his government would be for all Italians, "even those who didn't vote for us."

"Today we turn a page," he said. "We leave behind the sourness of long and difficult electoral campaign. We need to start immediately to repair the tears that were produced in the country."

Final returns Tuesday for the Chamber of Deputies showed Prodi winning by one-tenth of a percentage point: 49.8 to 49.7 percent. Under Italian electoral law, 55 percent of seats are awarded to the overall winner, regardless of the scale of victory, giving Prodi's forces at least 340 seats in the 630-member lower house.

But Sandro Bondi, coordinator for Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, contested 43,000 of the votes cast. He did not elaborate.

"Let's wait for the final, definitive results," Bondi said.
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