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Italy's ex-communist president to be sworn in

Written by: Staff

ROME, May 15 (Reuters) Italy's first ex-communist head of state takes office today as incoming Prime Minister Romano Prodi puts the finishing touches on his coalition government to end more than a month of political limbo.

Newly elected President Giorgio Napolitano, 80, will be sworn in at 1700hrs (1500 GMT) and is expected to ask Prodi to form a government by Wednesday, five weeks after the centre-left leader won one of the tightest elections in Italian history.

Prodi spent the weekend in delicate talks with his ''Union'' coalition, juggling the parties' conflicting demands for cabinet seats to find a team capable of remaining united in the face of an aggressive opposition led by Silvio Berlusconi.

''I think we have an agreement with no problems, including on the deputy prime ministers,'' Prodi told reporters yesterday.

But many of his allies said inter-party squabbling was making Prodi's job of picking a cabinet difficult.

''It's certainly not a pretty sight,'' Clemente Mastella, leader of the small Christian Democrat party UDEUR, told La Stampa daily, criticising the Union's two biggest parties of fighting over who should be appointed deputy prime minister.

Massimo D'Alema, chairman of the Democrats of the Left (DS) party who is set to be the new foreign minister, said he wanted to be Prodi's only deputy.

That upset the second biggest party, the Margherita (Daisy), which wants its leader, Francesco Rutelli, also to be a deputy prime minister.

D'Alema, whose ambitions of becoming head of state were foiled by Berlusconi's opposition, dismissed as ''slander'' reports he had pressed Prodi not to give Rutelli, expected to be culture minister, the largely honorary title of vice-prime minister.

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