Italian PM to rap unruly allies on foreign policy

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LUXEMBOURG, Feb 5 (Reuters) Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi will meet bickering coalition partners tomorrow to avoid more foreign policy embarrassments like a Senate vote on a US military base last week where coalition support crumbled.

Prodi, whose Catholic-to-communist coalition has quarrelled repeatedly since coming to power last May on everything from the budget to gay rights and US relations, said today the meeting would concentrate on divisive foreign policy issues.

''We need the majority to share all the (foreign policy) choices we have made,'' he said during a visit to Luxembourg. He cited debate over plans to keep 1,900 troops in Afghanistan and to let the Pentagon expand the US military base at Vicenza.

Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema and Defence Minister Arturo Parisi, who have defended Italy's presence in Afghanistan and the Vicenza base plans from criticism from the coalition's Green and communist members, will also attend the meeting with the heads of the nine parties forming Prodi's coalition.

Last Thursday Prodi's bloc failed to even agree on the wording of a motion in the Senate supporting the US base expansion, championed by Prodi and Parisi.

The opposition embarrassed the government by presenting its own motion in favour of the base, which was approved by the upper house where Prodi only has a one-seat majority.

Opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi called on Prodi to step down, saying the episode proved he could not govern effectively.

Prodi soon faces another tough foreign policy vote in parliament on whether to finance keeping Italian peacekeepers in Afghanistan.


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