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Last-minute hitches delay Berlusconi's final triumph

ROME - The media magnate Silvio Berlusconi will today be asked to form Italy's next government, according to a brief statement issued by the presidential office last night, writes Patricia Clough.

'The President of the Republic Oscar Luigi Scalfaro has summoned the honourable Silvio Berlusconi to the Quirinale Palace for 5pm tomorrow,' the announcement said. President Scalfaro is certain to appoint Mr Berlusconi prime minister-designate and ask him to form a government from the partners in his right-wing 'Freedom Alliance'. The announcement ended speculation after the presidential summons failed to materialise as expected during the day.

It was assumed that two problems lay behind the delay: how to guarantee that Mr Berlusconi's huge personal business interests are kept out of the affairs of state and who becomes the next Interior Minister, a key post in any government, and one over which the Alliance partners are wrangling. Mr Berlusconi has refused to hand over his Fininvest holding company to an American-style blind trust.

Mr Berlusconi not only owns half of the national television channels, but his companies are deeply in debt to the banks, some of which are state-owned and will therefore ultimately be under his control as prime minister.

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