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Italy's Prodi asked to form government

Written by: Staff
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ROME, May 16 (Reuters) Italy's president tday asked centre-left leader Romano Prodi to form a government, ending more than a month of political limbo since the centre left narrowly won a national election.

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

Prodi accepted the mandate and went straight back into negotiations 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 tomorrow.

Days of bickering over cabinet posts have underscored the problems Prodi is likely to face with a very slim majority in parliament and Berlusconi's pledge to lead a ''an opposition without pity''.

''I reassured the president that the coalition is solid,'' Prodi said shortly before going to the Quirinale presidential palace to receive the mandate.

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

BERLUSCONI DEFIANT 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.

He later said members of his centre-right bloc should chair the parliamentary committees in charge of the probe.

''As you know, there were many irregularities, many anomalies that we want cleared up,'' he told reporters.

Prodi's first spell in government ended prematurely in 1998 when the Communist Refoundation party deserted him in a confidence vote.

He faces a similar risk, especially as he has just a two-seat majority in the upper house Senate.

Berlusconi scorned Prodi's bloc for installing leftist speakers in both houses of parliament and voting Napolitano, a former communist, head of state against the wishes of the opposition.

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

The final cabinet list is expected to be ready by tomorrow morning. Ministries including interior, defence and justice were still up for grabs late today.

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.

REUTERS SY VC2344

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