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Italian PM Resigns after Nine Months in Office

21 February 2007

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigned late Wednesday after his government lost a crucial parliamentary vote on foreign policy. The president will now begin talks with political leaders to discuss a way forward. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome.

Romano Prodi's center-left government had been in power only nine months when he resigned after losing a vote in parliament's upper house on foreign policy.

The government, divided over Italy's mission in Afghanistan and ties with the U.S. military, needed 160 votes to win backing in the Senate for its foreign policy program. But it fell two votes short, plunging Italy into a deep political crisis.

President Giorgio Napolitano said he will begin consultations with party leaders Thursday. He may ask Mr. Prodi to form a new government or broker the formation of a different government, possibly involving technocrats.

His options also include dissolving parliament and calling an early general election. For the moment, he has asked Mr. Prodi to remain in power in a caretaker capacity.

After his loss in the Senate, Mr. Prodi convened an special cabinet meeting as more than a hundred opposition supporters gathered outside his offices, calling for him to step down.

Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema had said before the vote that the government should resign if its policy lost parlimentary support.

He said those who agreed with the government's foreign policy should vote in favor and those who didn't should vote against, so that a clear picture would emerge out of the Senate.

Opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi said after the vote the government had no other option but to quit.

He said, "From this disaster, the country must come out immediately with the resignation of this government. If Prodi is sensible, he will step down."

One of the main sticking points in Italy's foreign policy is its mission in Afghanistan. Italy has 18-hundred troops deployed there, which were sent in by the former center-right government led by Mr. Berlusconi.

Mr. Prodi has agreed to keep the troops there but this has sparked opposition from his Communist allies. Beyond Afghanistan, one of the most divisive issues has been a plan to expand a U.S. military base in northern Italy.

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