Prodi stands down after surprise defeat in senate over US alliance

Thursday
04:03:55 AM
February
22 2007

Prodi stands down after surprise defeat in senate over US alliance

-· President may ask PM to build new government
-· Right jubilant after far left again wrecks coalition

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John Hooper in Rome;
Romano Prodi resigned last night as Italy's prime minister after his government had suffered an unexpected defeat in parliament over its alliance with the United States and its role in Nato. Giorgio Napolitano, who as Italy's president oversees the making and breaking of governments, is to open consultations on the political future today.

It was not ruled out that Mr Prodi could be asked to form a new government, and a grouping of core parties in his coalition said last night that they were prepared to back him again. But his spokesman said: "He is ready to carry on as prime minister if, and only if, he is guaranteed the full support of all the parties in his majority from now on."

That support was signally lacking in the senate a few hours earlier, when the government sought a vote of approval for its foreign policy. Discontent on the left of his sprawling, nine-party coalition over the extension of an American military base and Italy's open-ended commitment to the Nato-led force in Afghanistan lay behind a two-vote defeat. Since he had not lost a formal confidence vote, Mr Prodi was not obliged to stand down.
But, amid raucous scenes, members of the rightwing opposition claimed he had been stripped of his credibility. "There is no majority any more," declared a jubilant Renato Schifani, chief senate whip to Silvio Berlusconi, whom Mr Prodi defeated in a general election last year. "There is no Prodi government any more."

In the chamber of deputies, the lower house of parliament, scuffles broke out between MPs of rival parties.

As Mr Prodi prepared to see President Napolitano after a crisis cabinet meeting, a crowd of young opposition supporters gathered below the windows of his office chanting for his resignation.

The foreign minister, Massimo D'Alema, had said on the eve of the vote that the government should go if it lost. Seeking backing for his policies after weeks of growing controversy, Mr D'Alema told the senate that to have rejected a US request to double the size of its facilities at Vicenza in northern Italy would have been a "hostile act" towards an ally.

Last weekend, 70,000 demonstrators marched through the city in protest. Several members of the governing majority said afterwards that the issue should be put to a local referendum, but Mr Prodi dismissed the suggestion. Two radical left senators withheld their votes on a broad motion supporting the government's foreign policy, robbing the centre-left of the outright majority it needed.

But there was also speculation that the outcome might have been different had not the legendarily Machiavellian Giulio Andreotti, a former prime minister and now life senator, wrong-footed the governing coalition by saying he would back it, but abstaining. The vote, in fact, was the government's favour, 158 to 136 with 24 abstentions; but, in the senate, abstentions effectively count as votes against.

It was the second time Mr Prodi had fallen victim to the far left, which brought down his last government in 1998.

The row over the US base had become linked to demands for an exit strategy in Afghanistan, where Italy has 1,900 troops in the UN-mandated but Nato-led International Security and Assistance Force.

Since Italy's withdrawal of its troops from Iraq last year, the radical left of Mr Prodi's coalition had become increasingly critical of the presence in Afghanistan. The issue became urgent last month when discussions began on renewed funding for Italy's contingent there.

Three ministers from the Green party and two communist groups left a cabinet meeting to avoid having to put their signatures to the government decree that supplied the cash.

Alarmed by the level of resistance in the governing coalition, the ambassadors of six of Italy's partners in Afghanistan, including Britain and the US, published an open letter earlier this month, appealing for unity. The funding decree has yet to be endorsed by parliament and it was in an attempt to get an agreed policy that Mr Prodi and his foreign minister tabled the motion that brought them to grief.

FROM: The Guardian

Source by Redazione


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