WORLD / Europe

Italian Premier Berlusconi to resign
Updated: 2006-04-30 07:29

ROME, April 29 - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Saturday he would resign, ending three weeks of wrangling over a narrow election defeat and clearing the political decks for Romano Prodi to take power.

Berlusconi, who had previously alleged election fraud and refused to formally concede defeat after April 9-10 polls, would hand his resignation to President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi on Tuesday after a scheduled cabinet meeting, officials said.

Prodi's centre-left coalition, ranging from communists to centrist Roman Catholics, won the election by the smallest margin in modern Italian history and will have to find quick remedies for a struggling economy andwayward public finances.

Many political commentators are sceptical he will govern for long, especially after his coalition displayed embarrassing disunity on Friday and Saturday, needing four votes to get its candidate elected president of parliament's upper house Senate.

"The Prodi government, if it ever sees the light of day, will have to get used to living with an abacus in its hands," the leftist La Repubblica newspaper said after the coalition failed to unite round Franco Marini in the first three votes.

The centre-left has only a two-seat majority in the Senate but should be able to count on support from several life-senators appointed by the president, not elected. Prodi's majority is bigger in the lower house Chamber of Deputies.

"Yes," an official at Berlusconi's office said when asked whether the prime minister, Italy's richest man and a media magnate, had decided to quit after leading Italy for five years with a centre-right cabinet.


Berlusconi won power in 2001 promising an economic miracle of tax cuts, an infrastructure boom and economic growth of around 4 percent per year. But in 2005 the economy failed to grow for the second time in three years.

The public deficit has exceeded the European Union's 3 percent of GDP ceiling for the last three years, with the trend worsening as one-off deficit plugs have run out. The 2005 deficit of 4.1 percent of GDP was the highest since 1996.
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