Berlusconi decamps to Naples for clean-up

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The Independent Online

Italy's prime minister-in-waiting, Silvio Berlusconi, has confirmed that he will hold the first cabinet meeting of his new government in Naples, probably in Palazzo Reale, the former seat of the Bourbon kings, to symbolise his determination to resolve the city's rubbish crisis.

"I have already found a working base," he told reporters, "and I will be in Naples three days a week [until] I am sure that we have set in motion the solution of the crisis."

His temporary home in the city remains a well-kept secret: but it is said to be a toss-up between an eighth-floor suite in the Hotel Vesuvio, with stunning views of Capri and the Bay of Naples, and the pseudo-Grecian Villa Lucia on a nearby hill, owned by Diana de Feo, a newly elected senator in Mr Berlusconi's People of Liberty party, and wife of his favourite news journalist, the supremely loyal Emilio Fede, anchorman of Rete Quattro's daily news programme.

Virman Cusenza, deputy editor of Il Mattino, the city's daily paper, commented: "This is a feather in the cap for the city, even if the reason is rubbish. There was a big swing right in the election in reaction to the left-wing city council's failure to deal with the rubbish crisis, so they are in a mood to welcome Berlusconi. The immediate crisis is nearly over, most of the rubbish has been cleared from the streets, but the situation is very delicate, and the day after the rubbish commissioner Gianni de Gennaro goes home [in the middle of May], we could be back where we started."

Mr Berlusconi met the two allies central to his third election victory, former foreign minister and deputy prime minister Gianfranco Fini and Umberto Bossi, founder-leader of the Northern League, at his home in Rome yesterday. "We will have half the number of ministers as Prodi's government," Mr Berlusconi told reporters, "a maximum of 60, including ministers, deputy minister and under-secretaries, and we will be ready to go to work immediately. There will be difficult moments, we will require a strong renovation to tackle the necessary reforms which will have unpopular aspects." The "unpopular measures" would include "cuts that must be made in the bodies, the privileges and the budgets of public administration," he said.

Mr Berlusconi declined to say more about his choices for ministers, but Mr Fini floated the name of Giulia Buongiorno, the lawyer who represented Giulio Andreotti during his trial on Mafia charges as an "ideal" candidate for minister of justice. Mr Berlusconi also used the press conference to reiterate his determination to save Alitalia, with the slogan "I love Italy, I fly Alitalia". The airline, which has been in trouble for years, faces bankruptcy within weeks, but Mr Berlusconi brusquely rejected a takeover bid by Air France-KLM. Yesterday, he said the French-Dutch company could be involved in the restructuring of Alitalia, along with other Italian and international partners, to preserve Alitalia's status as the national carrier.

He said that work on his pet grand projet, the planned suspension bridge over the Strait of Messina to Sicily, cancelled by Romano Prodi's government, would resume without delay.

While Mr Berlusconi prepared his return to power, the left was licking its wounds and mulling defeats that have cut its representation from the north-east to Sicily. In Friuli, in the north-east, Riccardo Illy was voted out as governor of the region, while in Sicily, Anna Finocchiaro, a charismatic figure and possible future leader of the Democratic Party, was beaten as governor by Mr Berlusconi's candidate Raffaele Lombardo.

The right's advances reached Rome, a bastion of the centre-left for years, forcing centre-left mayoral candidate Francesco Rutelli into a run-off against his centre-right opponent Gianni Alemanno in 11 days' time.

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