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Italian president says he won't serve second term

Written by: Staff

ROME, Apr 18 (Reuters) Italy's 85-year-old president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi has said he will not serve a second term after his mandate expires next month, adding further uncertainty to the confused aftermath of stormy elections.

The new president will play a crucial role in repairing the damage from last week's polls, in which centre-left leader Romano Prodi won a razor-thin victory over Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who refuses to acknowledge the results.

''Seven years up here (in the president's palace) are already a lot, another seven would ... perhaps mean a kind of republican monarchy,'' Ciampi told Corriere della Sera in an interview published today.

But in a statement released by his office later in the day, Ciampi appeared to re-open the door for a second term -- something which would be a popular option in Italy's divided parliament as he is liked by both left and right.

The statement said the newspaper article was a ''free reconstruction'' of a private conversation that took place on April 3, although it did not deny the quotes were accurate.

Under the Italian constitution it is up to the president to give a new government its mandate, but Ciampi has so far refused to do so, reportedly saying he preferred to leave that task to his successor.

The confusion over who might become the country's next head of state added to the feeling of political gridlock in Italy, where there is still no official confirmation of Prodi's election win.

Italy's supreme appeals court -- the body which will deliver the official results -- said it was still waiting for data from some parts of the country and expected to receive them by tomorrow.

Berlusconi's party held a news conference to reject, once again, Prodi's victory declaration and voiced concerns that the courts were rushing the verification of the ballots.

CANDIDATES The incoming parliament is due to elect a president on May 12-13 and Ciampi was seen as one of the few candidates who would have been able to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority.

The new president must hold consultations with party leaders from across the political spectrum before nominating the person he thinks has the best chance of governing.

That will almost certainly be Prodi, unless Berlusconi's accusations of widespread vote fraud are accepted by Italy's top appeals court, something that is looking increasingly unlikely.

Among possible candidates to replace Ciampi are former centre-left prime ministers Massimo D'Alema and Giuliano Amato.

The election of the president will be the first test of whether the opposing coalitions can find some common ground following a divisive election and an aftermath filled with confusion, tension and recriminations.

If no agreement can be reached between the two sides it will become a test of whether the centre-left camp, with its wide array of disparate parties, can reach an internal agreement to elect a president on its own.

Ciampi is widely considered to be close to Prodi and served as treasury minister in Prodi's first government between 1996 and 1998.

As a life senator he will be able to vote in the upper house and provide the centre left with much-needed support.


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