Italian Premier Resigns
ROME (AP) _ Italy’s second-longest lasting government since World War II collapsed Friday, throwing into question a new phase of financial reforms and participation in any NATO attack on Yugoslavia.
Premier Romano Prodi’s center-left coalition had held together during its drive to cut costs and qualify for Europe’s common currency. But it lost momentum and fell apart after it reached its goal.
Communists caused its end after 2 1/2 years in power by withdrawing support over Prodi’s 1999 budget, saying they wanted more spending for jobs.
Their rebellion forced Friday’s vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies. Prodi lost it by a single vote, 313-312, when a lawmaker in his coalition defected.
Opposition lawmakers burst into applause after the vote. Prodi slipped away from the presidential palace so quickly that he outpaced his security agents and briefly found himself facing reporters alone. ``I’m not bitter,″ he said.
He submitted his resignation to President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, who asked him to lead the governmentfor the time being.
Scalfaro must decide whether to call early elections, a step few want and few expect, or ask Prodi or someone else to try to form a new government.
Centrist leader Francesco Cossiga appealed to leading parties of the left and right to form a caretaker government that would see Italy through tough spots ahead, including passage of the budget.
``I ask them because as the major political forces, only they can form a government with the authority needed to face the delicate international financial situation and the crisis in Kosovo,″ Cossiga said.
A no-frills, no-thrills leader, Prodi came to power after Italy briefly was led by a center-right coalition headed by media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, now the opposition leader.
Prodi presided over budget cuts and a temporary tax increase needed to get Italy’s economy in shape for the 1999 debut of Europe’s common currency. It qualified for the euro debut earlier this year, impressing and surprising many fellow European Union members with less volatile politics.
Prodi would have had to keep cutting costs to stay in line with requirements for the European Monetary Union. Communists wanted more spending, not less.
In an attempt to woo them before Friday’s vote, Prodi pledged that his government would work to make law a 35-hour work week, their pet project.
He also held back from endorsing NATO airstrikes on Serbia without specific backing from the U.N. Security Council, another Communist demand.
Italy is across the Adriatic from Yugoslavia, and its bases and ports could be important to any NATO attack over Yugoslavia’s treatment of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Parliament would have to approve Italy’s participation.
The opposition said even a win wouldn’t have avoided more crises for Prodi.
Winning the confidence vote would ``only put off the dramatic question of Kosovo,″ said Rocco Buttiglione of Berlusconi’s Freedom Alliance.
``Now we should go to the polls,″ Berlusconi said.
However, analysts predicted a new majority will be found to pass the budget without new elections.
``Political instability will be limited in the next few days,″ said Bruno Rovelli, an economist with Citibank in Milan.
Prodi led Italy’s 55th government since World War II. He outlasted all but Bettino Craxi, a Socialist who served 3 1/2 years in two, back-to-back stints from 1983 to 1987.