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Bersani dismisses Italy Senate coalition with Berlusconi

Seeking a solution to stalemate in the Senate, Italy's upper house of parliament, election-winner Pier Luigi Bersani has said his center-left alliance will not ally with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's bloc.

Pier Luigi Bersani said in a newspaper interview published on Friday that his center-left bloc was not prepared to ally with the rival group led by Silvio Berlusconi, even with Berlusconi holding the upper hand in the Senate.

"I want to spell it out clearly: the idea of a grand coalition does not exist and will never exist," Bersani told La Repubblica.

As the most popular party in the vote for the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, Bersani's bloc is guaranteed 54 percent of the seats under Italian electoral law. The Senate, however, has roughly equal legislative powers, meaning that this lower house majority might not suffice for Bersani to push policies through as premier.

"Call it what you want," Bersani said when asked whether he would seek a minority government in the Senate instead. "Minority government, government of purpose, that doesn't interest me. For me it is a government of change."

Seeking premiership

President Giorgio Napolitano, currently concluding a visit to Germany, will have the task of forming a new government. Napolitano said that despite the difficult situation, "Italy is not without a government."

Speaking to reporters as he delivered a more general speech on the European Union in Berlin, Napolitano said he was determined to avoid an election re-run - implying he would be seeking to crown a prime minister and government.

"I'm not interested in a new vote," Napolitano said.

Bersani told la Repubblica that he would present a seven- or eight-point agenda when summoned by Napolitano, and that he would put himself forward as a candidate for prime minister.

Even if Bersani secured support from the centrist coalition beneath outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, he would still fall short of a Senate majority. Berlusconi's right-wing alliance holds more Senate seats, but it is also well short of a controlling stake.

Former comedian Beppe Grillo's "5-Star Movement," a protest group that previously pledged not to ally with any traditional party, is the other major force in both houses. Though Grillo, who calls himself the party's "spokesman," ruled out any alliance with the established parties, he has also said his group would not oppose legislation that conformed with its manifesto.

Tears of a clown

Grillo, meanwhile, took aim at German Social Democrat candidate for chancellor, Peer Steinbrück, on his blog. After Steinbrück called Grillo and Berlusconi "clowns" in an interview, Grillo wrote that the comment was "arrogant and not very politically intelligent." Grillo said that Steinbrück was effectively insulting some 15 million Italian voters and that the move suggested he might not be suitable stock for the top political post in Germany.

The director of the major German circus Roncalli, Bernhard Paul, objected to Steinbrück's statements on rather different grounds.

"A circus clown is not some kind of moron that you can put on the same level as Berlusconi," Paul, who has worked as a clown for more than three decades, told the German news agency dpa. "A clown has an honorable, quite difficult, sensitive, artistic job. How can you compare that with Bunga Bunga?"

President Napolitano called off a planned meeting with Steinbrück on Thursday in protest of the comments, speaking of a "regrettable situation" that was "not acceptable" after meeting his counterpart Joachim Gauck in Berlin.

msh/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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