Italy Begins Forming Transitional Government After Berlusconi Resigns

Posted November 13th, 2011 at 11:10 am (UTC-5)
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Italy has begun the process of forming a new government, with economist Mario Monti the front-runner to succeed Silvio Berlusconi, who resigned as prime minister Saturday under criticism of the way he handled the country's worsening debt crisis.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano was holding a rapid series of meetings with political leaders Sunday, to discuss the naming of a transitional prime minister who would lead the country until the next elections, due by 2013. Economist and former European Union Commissioner Mario Monti received support for the top job from major opposition parties and some members of Mr. Berlusconi's ruling center-right PDL party.

Monti has never held elected office in Italy and does not represent any party. When reporters approached him as he went to church Sunday morning, he declined to comment on his prospects of becoming prime minister.

Financial markets have responded positively to Monti's emergence as the likely new prime minister, with Italian borrowing costs easing from records reached earlier in the week. Italian leaders were hoping to have a new government in place before financial markets open Monday, to reassure investors that Italy's political system is stabilizing.

The next government faces the challenge of implementing a major austerity package approved by parliament in the past week to reduce the country's huge public debt. EU leaders have been pressuring Italy to cut public spending to avoid becoming the latest euro zone member to request an EU bailout. EU officials worry that the Italian economy is too big to be rescued, and they fear its demise would be a major blow to the euro.

In another challenge to a potential Monti government, a key member of Mr. Berlusconi's outgoing coalition said it will oppose a Cabinet led by the economist. Northern League officials said the party will decide whether to support legislation on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Berlusconi submitted his resignation to Mr. Napolitano late Saturday, hours after parliament gave final approval to the austerity package. The unpopular prime minister lost his parliamentary majority Tuesday and pledged to resign as soon as lawmakers approved the reforms. Mr. Berlusconi gradually lost the support of his governing coalition as Italy's debt crisis worsened while he faced sex scandals and legal troubles.

The 75-year-old outgoing leader has denied any wrongdoing.

Thousands of Italians opposed to Mr. Berlusconi gathered in the streets of Rome to celebrate his resignation, with some shouting insults and throwing small objects at his car as he drove by. The media tycoon served as prime minister for 10 of the past 17 years, winning his first of three terms in office in 1994.