Berlusconi bows out reluctantly

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The Independent Online

More than three weeks after losing Italy's general election, Silvio Berlusconi handed in his resignation to President Carlo Ciampi yesterday. He never did make the long-awaited phone call to his centre-left adversary Romano Prodi, conceding defeat. He has spent much of the past three weeks accusing his opponents of fraud and disputing the result.

But after the speakers of the two houses of parliament were elected on Saturday, both of them from the centre-left coalition, the media mogul finally bowed to the inevitable. Mr Berlusconi and Mr Prodi met at an ancient basilica in central Rome at the state funeral of three Italian soldiers killed last week in Iraq. Berlusconi extended his arm and the two men shook hands.

Back at the prime minster's official residence, Palazzo Chigi, there followed a brief, emotional cabinet meeting, the last of his five years in office. Mr Berlusconi then went to the former papal palace on the top of the Qurinale hill, which is now the seat of the President, to submit his resignation.

The official photo showed Mr Berlusconi looking close to tears, and President Ciampi, with whom he has often crossed swords, smiling and putting a brotherly hand on his arm.