Ex-Communist is Italian PM

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The Independent Online
AFTER DAYS of hard bargaining the former Communist, Massimo D'Alema, is to form Italy's 56th government since the Second World War.

Mr D'Alema, who was President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro's choice for prime minister, is expected to announce his Cabinet today or tomorrow and go to parliament for the vote of confidence that would make him premier in time to attend the European Union summit on Friday and Saturday.

One of his first appearances as premier-designate will be to join President Scalfaro today in a meeting with Pope John Paul II at the presidential palace.

The Vatican newspaper, Osservatore Romano, was sharply critical of the decision to choose Mr D'Alema, because of his Communist past. "Fifty years after the momentous victory of freedom and democracy over communism, the head of state has entrusted the task of forming a government to a man from the apparatus of the former Italian Communist Party," it wrote on Sunday.

Yesterday Mr D'Alema was asked if he would try to clear the air with the Pope. "I have had no arguments with the Holy Father," Mr D'Alema said at a news conference. "I have nothing to clear up."

Mr D'Alema met the Italian president last night and outlined policies in line with those of the former premier Romano Prodi, who guided Italy into the European economic and currency union.

Mr Prodi resigned last week after being unable to form a new government.

Mr D'Alema has also vowed to try again at constitutional reform, a project he spearheaded but which the conservative opposition sank earlier this year. - AP