Italy in race to appoint cabinet

ITALY’s president raced to appoint an emergency government yesterday to face a crisis endangering the whole eurozone, after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned to the jeers of thousands of protesters.

Just a few hours after central Rome echoed with street parties celebrating Mr Berlusconi’s departure, President Giorgio Napolitano began a rapid round of meetings with political parties at his hilltop palace to find a new prime minister and government.

The consultations were due to wind up yesterday evening, when Mr Napolitano was expected to ask former European Commissioner Mario Monti to form a government largely of technocrats in time for the opening of markets today. If he manages to secure sufficient backing in parliament, Mr Monti will push through reforms agreed by Mr Berlusconi with eurozone leaders to cut Italy’s massive debt and revive a chronically stagnant economy.

However, there are clear signs that he will face problems, with Angelino Alfano, secretary of Mr Berlusconi’s PDL party saying there was “huge opposition” among its members to a Monti government, despite a conditional offer of support from its leadership.

Italy’s political turmoil, centred around the flamboyant and scandal-plagued figure of Mr Berlusconi, has brought the eurozone’s third largest economy to the brink of disaster and all eyes will be on market reaction today.

Mr Monti has received the backing of the main opposition groups and is expected to be backed by at least part of the PDL.

However, Mr Alfano warned the party would not agree to any attempt by Mr Monti’s government to change Italy’s widely criticised electoral law, a reform demanded by opposition parties.

“We have huge opposition even to the idea of supporting a Monti government from the outside,” he said.

Analysts also believe Mr Monti will face strong opposition to some of the tough austerity measures he will need to implement to satisfy markets and eurozone leaders.

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