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Prodi vows to "jolt" Italy, pull troops out of Iraq

Written by: Staff
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ROME, May 18 (Reuters) Prime Minister Romano Prodi today vowed to undo most of the policies of his predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, and pledged to bring Italy's troops home from what he called the ''occupation'' of Iraq.

Outlining his programme a day after his centre-left government was sworn in, Prodi said Italy needed a social, economic and moral jolt to mark a clean break with the past.

''We consider the war in Iraq and the occupation of the country a grave error,'' Prodi, who beat Berlusconi by a razor-thin margin in an election last month, told the Senate.

''It has not resolved, but complicated the situation of security,'' he said to loud jeering from centre-right benches.

''Terrorism has found a new base in Iraq and new excuses for terror attacks both inside and outside the country.'' Prodi said he would propose to parliament withdrawing all of Italy's 2,600 soldiers, but said the pullout would be agreed with all the sides involved and that he intended to continue Italy's traditionally good relations with Washington.

Berlusconi, faced with widespread domestic opposition to the war and the deployment of Italian troops, had already promised to bring the soldiers home by the end of this year.

Prodi did not give a precise timeframe. Some members of his coalition are demanding an immediate withdrawal.

On the domestic front, he vowed to overturn many of the policies that defined Berlusconi's five years in power, including electoral rules, labour flexibility, media regulation, immigration and judiciary reforms.

The Senate, where Prodi has a two-seat majority, will hold a confidence vote on his programme tomorrow. He is expected to win it despite opposition from the centre right.

''Prodi basically wants to dismantle the centre right's reforms,'' said Fabrizio Cicchitto of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party. ''Italy has the worst possible government''.

MORAL CRISIS ''Our country needs a strong jolt,'' Prodi said in his 90-minute speech, adding this referred not only to its weak economy but also to the need to ''restore a culture of legality''.

''In our society, there is a climate of tolerance and being accustomed to ethically reprehensible, if not outright illegal, behaviour, to huge conflict of interests, to sudden and shameless enrichment,'' he said.

''There is a moral crisis: the cunning must not prevail,'' he said, vowing to fight tax evasion.

Prodi said his government felt a sense of ''urgency'' as Italy recorded zero growth in 2005 for the second time in three years and its debt mountain rose for the first time in a decade.

Rating agencies have threatened to downgrade Italy's debt unless Prodi's government puts public finances into order.

Prodi promised new regulations for the media industry and tougher conflict of interest laws, a clear reference to accusations which dogged Berlusconi, who controls Italy's largest private broadcaster.

He vowed to review a law on labour market flexibility which the centre left says undermines job security, modify immigration rules toughened by his predecessor and change an electoral law wanted by Berlusconi which restored proportional representation.

But analysts doubt whether his government, drawn from eight parties ranging from Roman Catholic moderates to communists, will be strong enough to pass any far-reaching reform.

REUTERS DKS VC2210

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