Berlusconi resigns - but only to put together a new government

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The Independent Online

Italy's longest-running government since the Second World War ended with a whimper yesterday evening when Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi handed his resignation to President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the head of state.

Italy's longest-running government since the Second World War ended with a whimper yesterday evening when Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi handed his resignation to President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the head of state.

It was a formal act which was required of him by the Italian constitution after a minor member of his coalition, the centrist and Catholic UDC party, pulled out of the government last week.

That was prompted by regional elections this month in which Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia party was badly beaten. With a general election in May 2006 at the latest, the UDC, a rump of the once-dominant Christian Democratic party, was keen to put some clear, blue water between itself and a prime minister many in Italy believe to be doomed. But as the UDC has promised to continue to support Mr Berlusconi's government from outside, President Ciampi was expected to ask the media billionaire to form a new government.

But exactly when was not clear: the President might feel it his duty to have talks with all political forces before calling on Mr Berlusconi to resume.

Mr Berlusconi had been expected to resign three days ago. On Monday, he received a written promise from the UDC that it would loyally support him. The document was given on the assumption that Mr Berlusconi would then formally throw in the towel. Instead he tried to brazen his way through the crisis.

But another coalition partner, the post-fascist Alleanza Nazionale, said it would precipitate the government's fall if Mr Berlusconi did not do the decent thing. The man Italians call Il Cavaliere (the Cavalier) had run out of options. Mr Berlusconi told the the Senate yesterday hours before meeting the President: "With your confidence and support we have written important pages in our country's history; with your confidence and your support I am sure we will write many more."

The resignation kills Mr Berlusconi's dream of being the first Italian prime minister to lead a single government for a full five-year term.

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