May 16, 2006

Italy’s Prodi asked to form government

By Silvia Aloisi

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's Romano Prodi was finally asked to
form a new government on Tuesday, more than a month after
narrowly winning a national election, but still faced
last-minute negotiations with his allies over cabinet posts.

President Giorgio Napolitano gave Prodi the mandate after
consulting former presidents and party chiefs, including
outgoing center-right Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who
insisted he wanted more checks on the results of the election.

Prodi accepted and went straight back into talks with his
coalition allies, who range from Roman Catholic moderates to
communists, over the make-up of the government which is
expected to be sworn in on Wednesday.

"I think it's going to be quite a long night," Prodi said
shortly after leaving the Quirinale presidential palace.

Prodi said he expected to have the final cabinet list by
Wednesday morning. Ministries including interior, defense and
justice were still up for grabs late on Tuesday.

Days of bickering over cabinet jobs have underscored the
problems Prodi is likely to face with a wafer-thin majority in
parliament and Berlusconi's pledge to lead a "an opposition
without pity."

His government needs to get down to work quickly to try to
revive a stagnant economy, with rating agencies threatening to
downgrade Italy's debt if badly needed but unpopular reforms
are not enacted soon.


Napolitano said no one in Berlusconi's coalition had
contested that Prodi should be named prime minister, but the
media tycoon said he wanted parliament to launch a probe into
ballots from Italians abroad and those classed as void.

Berlusconi later said members of his center-right bloc
should chair the committees in charge of the probe.

"As you know, there were many irregularities, many
anomalies that we want cleared up," he said in his final news
conference as prime minister after a record five years in

Prodi's mandate was delayed, first by a recount of disputed
ballots and then by the election of a new head of state.

Once Prodi's team has been announced, he must still win a
confidence vote in the Senate, probably by Friday, and another
in the lower house early next week, before starting work.

Prodi appeared to have decided on two deputy prime
ministers -- Massimo D'Alema, chairman of the Democrats of the
Left party who is also tipped to be foreign minister, and
Francesco Rutelli, leader of the centrist Margherita (Daisy)

Former European Central Bank board member Tommaso
Padoa-Schioppa looked certain to be named economy minister.