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Berlusconi To Resign, Pave Way For Prodi

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Saturday he will resign next week, ending weeks of political wrangling and clearing the way for Romano Prodi to take power.

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Berlusconi is finally bowing out

After days of refusing to concede defeat in the general elections of April 9-10, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Saturday he would hand in his resignation to President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, according to Italian officials.

Berlusconi, the narrow loser in the general election, said he would hold his last cabinet meeting on Tuesday at 12:30 pm (1030GMT) and would immediately afterwards tender in his resignation.

He outlined his plans to reporters at the headquarters of his coalition shortly after Romano Prodi's candidates for the office of speaker in the two chambers of the parliament were elected.

After Berlusconi's resignation, Ciampi will have to decide whether he will himself formally ask Prodi to form the new government, or whether he will leave the duty to the next president. Ciampi's presidential term is due to end on May 18 and parliament will be tasked with electing a new president before that date.

Prodi clinches nerve-racking victories

Italien Parlament Romano Prodi

Prodi, center, heaves a sigh of relief

Meanwhile Italy's centre-left leader Romano Prodi clinched two victories Saturday after a second day of political tension, as his candidates beat off determined conservative opposition to win the post of speaker in both houses of parliament.

Prodi's Union coalition, which narrowly won the general election earlier this month, got off to a shaky start after his choices to lead both houses of parliament were rejected in balloting on Friday.

The conservative alliance of Berlusconi, who bitterly contested the election result, has been pursing a strategy of blocking the new leftist government at every turn, especially in the upper house Senate where Prodi's coalition has only a tiny two-seat majority.

In parliament Prodi's first victory came early Saturday when members of the lower-house Chamber of Deputies gave the nod for speaker to Fausto Bertinotti, leader of the refounded communist party, which is part of Prodi's broad-based coalition. Bertinotti, 66, prevailed in a fourth round ballot garnering 337 votes, some 32 votes more than the simple majority he needed to win the post.

It was a harder fought leadership battle in the Senate, that Prodi's coalition controls with 158 seats against the 156 held by Berlusconi's conservative House of Freedoms alliance.Prodi, the anticipated next prime minister, failed a test on Friday when his candidate for the Senate speaker's post, Franco Marini of the Margherita party, another of his coalition allies, failed to win in two rounds of voting plus a repeat ballot. The vote was mired in a dispute over misspellings of his name.

Italien Parlament

Franco Marini delivers his speech after being elected president of the Italian Senate

The fact that it took four ballots to elect Franco Marini prompted many commentators to warn the slimness of Prodi's centre-left majority may not suffice to keep him in power long.

"The Prodi government, if it ever sees the light of day, will have to get used to living with an abacus in its hands," the leftist La Repubblica newspaper said after the coalition failed to unite round Marini in the first three votes. "If the coalition doesn't close ranks it seriously risks committing suicide."

But on Saturday afternoon, the 73-year-old former union leader was chosen with a slim nine-vote lead over his challenger from the right, Guilio Andreotti, 87, ex-leader of the Christian Democrats, which dominated Italian politics from the end the World War II to the early 1990s.

The Senate speaker is also the country's vice president and the second most powerful position in Italian politics.

Berlusconi intends to block government

The struggle over the parliament's leadership exposed the fragility of Prodi's disparate coalition and the difficulty the 66-year-old former economics professor will face in trying to govern.

Prodi is up against Berlusconi's strategy to block the leftist

government which will be put to the test when Prodi seeks a vote of confidence.

"Our objective is to bring it (leftist government) down as soon

as possible," said outgoing Welfare Minister Roberto Maroni on Friday. "Berlusconi has been very clear in his strategy," Maroni told the website Affaritaliani. "Berlusconi knows that if it lasts five years, he will find it

difficult to run as head of government again. But if it doesn't last even a year, he will go forward," he said.

Berlusconi turns 70 in September.

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