President Giorgio Napolitano has dissolved Italy's parliament following the resignation of Prime Minister Mario Monti. The move helps pave the way for a national election in February.
Napolitano dissolved the Italian parliament Saturday, after consulting with political leaders, his office said. Senior Italian political party officials told the president there was no reason to extend the current legislature - due to end in April - after Monti resigned.
A two-day national election will be held on February 24 and 25.
The first to consult with Napolitano were officials from former premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservative People of Freedom (PDL) party, the largest of the outgoing legislature, who urged Monti to remain "neutral" during the campaign. Berlusconi is widely believed to be preparing a new election bid.
"Going into elections with an unelected technocratic government, Mario Monti will have to remain above the fray," said PDL whip Fabrizio Cicchitto.
Monti resigned on Friday, describing his 13 months in office as "difficult but fascinating," after the PDL decided to stop supporting his non-partisan government.
The former European Union commissioner is reportedly being courted to lead a centrist coalition featuring Ferrari boss Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, rebels from Berlusconi's camp and Christian Democrats.
The 69-year-old economist, who has been credited with restoring Italy's battered credibility with financial markets, was expected to clarify his political future at a press conference scheduled for Sunday.
Center-left lead polls
Officials from the other major party backing the outgoing government, the center-left Democratic Party (PD), thanked Monti for his efforts and said Italy now deserved a new phase, one in which "those who have more, pay more, and those who have less, pay less."
With the PD clearly ahead in opinion polls, Cicchitto had earlier urged Monti to join forces with Berlusconi, who is to contest his sixth election, rather than split the anti-left vote. The outgoing premier is unlikely to take up the offer.
Italy is undergoing a severe recession and youth unemployment is at a record 36.5 percent. The PDL blames Germany for forcing overly harsh economic policies on weaker eurozone peers, and has accused Monti of failing to resist them.
European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso have called for Monti's economic reform agenda to continue.
Center-right leader Berlusconi, who was forced to make way for Monti in November last year as Italian borrowing costs surged, has stepped up attacks on his successor in recent days and welcomed his resignation on Friday.
"Today the experience of the technical government is finished and we must hope there will never again be a similar suspension of democracy," he told reporters.
bk,dr/jr (dpa,Reuters, AP)
Bayern Munich head into their Champions League clash against Real Madrid with huge anticipation. The semi-final hurdle is the toughest, so far, in defending their title.
Stuttgart's resounding victory over Schalke means the fight for Bundesliga survival has become a three-horse race. Hamburg, Nuremberg and Braunschweig are scrambling to avoid relegation, but two must go down.