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European Union

Italian president holds more talks after Bersani fails to find majority

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has been meeting with party political leaders after Pier Luigi Bersani failed to put together a coalition. Last month’s parliamentary election produced no clear winner.

After a week of trying, center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani has failed to end a month-old political stalemate in place since last month's elections.

Napolitano spent Good Friday holding fresh consultations with political leaders including both Berlusconi and Bersani.

Italy fails to form a government

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 76, ruled out backing a technocrat government on the lines of the one led by former Prime Minister Mario Monti.

"Our position is the one the polls dictate: a broad coalition between the available forces... an absolutely political government, given the negative and tragic experience we had of a technocrat government," Berlusconi said on Friday.

Separately, Luigi Zanda, a leading light in Bersani's Democratic Party (PD) said it was very difficult to imagine a coalition with Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party: "There are too many important issues in PDL policies that are light years from those of the Democratic Party," he said on local television.

For its part, the 5-Star group headed by comedian Beppe Grillo met Napolitano on Friday but continued its refusal to back a government led by any of the major parties which it blames for Italy's social and economic crisis.

Ongoing difficulties

The difficulty in forming a government more than a month after Italy's parliamentary election is in part at least a reflection of the inconclusive result of the vote. Bersani's center-left bloc got the most votes overall and won a majority in the lower house in the February 24-25 polls, but it failed to do so in the upper house. Berlusconi's bloc finished a close second overall. Under Italy's complicated parliamentary system this makes it difficult to form a stable coalition, as any new government would need to win confidence votes in both houses.

President Napolitano's options appear limited, but with his term set to end in May, observers say he is determined to do all he can to ensure that he leaves office with a stable government in place. Even if he wanted to call a snap election, Italy's constitution prevents a president from doing so in the final few weeks of his term in office. This means fresh polls can't be called until parliamentarians have elected his successor.

After Cyprus appears to have weathered its economic storm by accepting an international bailout earlier this week, the attention of other eurozone states is beginning to focus on Italy, which has struggled with its own sovereign debt woes.

The outgoing technocrat government led by former European Commissioner Mario Monti introduced a series of emergency measures aimed at wrestling down Italy's massive debt. He asked the president to dissolve parliament in December, after Berlusconi withdrew his support for the government.

The fact that Monti's bloc finished fourth, taking just 10 percent of the vote in last month's election, was seen to a great extent as an expression of the unpopularity of the austerity measures his government introduced.

jm,pfd/kms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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