The conservative leader, Silvio Berlusconi, and his left-wing rival, Massimo D'Alema, traded charges of treachery as nearly five weeks of tortured negotiations ran into a brick wall, putting Italy on the path to a possible snap general election.
Both men made clear they believed the prime minister-designate, Antonio Maccanico, had no chance left of forming a government after the collapse of attempts by the two rival blocs to agree on a package of constitutional and electoral reform.
Mr Maccanico said he would go to see President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro this morning. State television said he was likely to tell Mr Scalfaro he was giving up.
Mr Scalfaro must then decide whether to dissolve parliament for a general election three years ahead of schedule in late April. He could also try to extend outgoing Prime Minister Lamberto Dini's term until the end of Italy's European Union presidency on 30 June. Mr Dini resigned on 11 January.Reuse content