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23 febbraio 2007

Prodi's New Age

Prodi's Resignation Could Open New Era

By VICTOR L. SIMPSON, Associated Press Writer, 8:22 PM PST, February 22, 2007
ROME — Romano Prodi couldn't live with them and couldn't live without them. The far-left fringe of his fragile coalition, they are the parties that noisily opposed the premier's U.S.-friendly policies on keeping Italian troops in Afghanistan and expanding U.S. bases in Italy.

Those tensions forced Prodi to resign Wednesday after he lost a key foreign policy vote in the Senate -- and threaten to usher in a new era of turmoil in Italian politics.

Prodi needed the leftists to edge out Silvio Berlusconi in elections in May 2006. But they have paralyzed his ability to govern.

"When you put even Trotskyites in parliament, this is the least that can happen," said Prodi's foreign minister, Massimo D'Alema, himself a former communist.

Prodi often said he expected a full-five year term, despite a razor-thin margin in parliament and a coalition ranging from communists to former Christian Democrats.

The foreign policy package, including a reaffirmation of Italy's military mission in Afghanistan, failed because of leftist defections -- toppling a government that had been in power for only nine months.

Now Prodi needs to scrape together a new coalition if he is to stay in power. Failure could pave the way for the return of the conservative Berlusconi, a figure the left dreads because of his friendship with President Bush and the immense power he wields at the top of a media empire.

"After months of pressure in parliament and in the streets, the ideological cord of extremism has broken, bringing down Prodi and reopening to Berlusconi the possibility of leading the country again," said Ezio Mauro, editor of the left-leaning daily La Repubblica.

If Prodi does not have enough reliable allies to put together another coalition quickly, Italians may have to go to the polls for the second time in a year. President Giorgio Napoletano began talks with political leaders Thursday in a bid to find a solution.

From the start, Prodi's government was fraught with friction, as it struggled to meet European Union demands to cut Italy's budget deficit and increase productivity while seeking to please its electorate by maintaining Italy's generous welfare state.

But foreign policy proved to be its downfall.

Prodi and D'Alema's efforts to raise Italy's profile in NATO and the EU while weaning the government away from Berlusconi's cozy relationship with Bush were not enough to please the more radical wing of the center-left alliance.

"I believe Italy is today the only country in the West where nearly 10 percent of the voters believe in an anti-American platform," said political analyst Stefano Folli. "This explains the aversion to foreign policy, which is an aversion to the alliance with the United States."

For example, Lidia Menapace, a member of the Senate's Defense Commission, says U.S. and NATO bases are an "infringement of Italian territory" and that after the fall of the Berlin Wall NATO should simply "dissolve itself."

While Prodi has tried to play a major role as a peacekeeper in Lebanon, his ally, Communist Party leader Oliviero Diliberto, returned from a visit to Lebanon and Syria and said Hezbollah was a "victim of stereotyping."

Pictured on his party's Web site wearing a Palestinian scarf, Diliberto assailed Israeli criticism of his visit as "offensive."

Another communist leader, Marco Ferrando, defended banners held up during a recent protest that called for the release of a group of Italians arrested on terrorism charges as Red Brigades suspects.

"I criticize terrorism not because it puts the established order under discussion but because its serves the ruling class as a way of silencing opposition," he told Corriere della Sera newspaper.

The protest, against expansion of a U.S. base in Vicenza authorized by Prodi, drew tens of thousands.

Prodi's aides have said he would only return to power with ironclad commitments from his coalition partners to support government policy.

Prodi met with his coalition allies later on Thursday and called on them to give him their firm support for another government. Leaders emerging from the summit indicated he had lined enough backing for a Parliamentary majority in his bid to quickly return to office.

"Let's hope that after this trauma, the radical left understands that political suicide is in nobody's interest," D'Alema said.

( Los Angeles Times )




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