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Italian president seeks way out of political stalemate

Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano tries to find a way of forming a government after the deadlocked election last month left no party with a majority in Parliament. (FABRIZIO BENSCH/REUTERS)

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano completed a first day of consultations with political leaders on Wednesday to try to find a way of forming a government after the deadlocked election last month left no party with a majority in Parliament.

Napolitano was due to meet the largest parties on Thursday.

Italy’s political stalemate and the prospect of months of uncertainty has caused alarm across Europe just as the standoff over bank deposits in Cyprus reawakened fears that the euro-zone debt crisis could flare up again.

The most influential of the relatively minor groups that Napolitano met Wednesday were the centrist Civic Choice, which is led by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, and the leftist SEL party, which is led by Nichi Vendola and is part of the center-left bloc.

Monti did not attend the meeting, but Civic Choice coordinator Andrea Olivero said afterward that the party favored a pro-
Europe coalition government that could fix public finances and boost growth. He did not suggest a candidate for prime minister or even name the parties that should form such a coalition.

Vendola was more forthcoming.

“We told Napolitano that Italy needs the most innovative and courageous government possible. Now it’s up to Bersani to try,” he said, referring to center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani.

Bersani, who won a majority in the lower house but not in the Senate, commands the largest bloc in Parliament but cannot govern unless he has support from one of the other parties.

However, there has been no sign that an accord is possible with either former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right alliance, the second-biggest force in Parliament, or the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which is led by former comic Beppe Grillo and holds the balance of power.

Napolitano was due to meet Grillo early Thursday and Berlusconi and his Northern League allies an hour later. The president ends the two days of talks when he meets Bersani in the evening. Later on Thursday or on Friday, he may ask Bersani to try to form a government.

If no agreement is struck, Italy faces the prospect of a brief period under a caretaker government followed by a return to the polls, possibly as early as June or after the summer holiday months, in September or October.

Berlusconi said Wednesday that only a broad cross-party alliance was capable of addressing the problems facing Italy, but Bersani has rejected his overtures.

“We have declared ourselves open to this, but Bersani and his supporters keep stubbornly paying court to Grillo and the ‘Grillini’ even though they only keep getting rebuffed,” the media billionaire told his own Italia 1 television station.

Bersani, 61, leader of the Democratic Party, received a small boost this weekend when his candidates were elected speakers of the two houses of Parliament.


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