- Associated Press - Saturday, November 12, 2011

ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi resigned Saturday after parliament’s lower chamber passed European-demanded reforms, ending a 17-year political era and setting in motion a transition aimed at bringing the country back from the brink of economic crisis.

A chorus of Handel’s “Alleluia,” performed by a few dozen singers and classical musicians, rang out in front of the president’s palace as thousands of Italians poured into downtown Rome to rejoice at the end of Berlusconi’s scandal-marred reign.

Hecklers shouted “Buffoon, Buffoon!” as Berlusconi’s motorcade entered and exited the presidential palace, where he tendered his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano, the palace said in a statement.

Respected former European commissioner Mario Monti remained the top choice to try to steer the country out of its debt woes as the head of a transitional government, but Berlusconi’s allies remained split over whether to support him.

Their opposition wasn’t expected to scuttle Napolitano’s plans to ask Monti to try to form an interim government as early as Sunday, but it could make Monti’s job more difficult.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi leaves the Quirinale Presidential Palace after meeting Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, in Rome, Saturday, Nov.12, 2011. Berlusconi resigned after the Parliament's lower chamber passed European-demanded reforms, ending a 17-year political era and setting in motion a transition aimed at bringing Italy back from the brink of economic crisis. (AP Photo / Roberto Monaldo)
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi leaves the Quirinale Presidential Palace after meeting Italian ... more >

Napolitano will hold consultations Sunday morning with all Italy’s political forces. The back-to-back, 10-minute meetings he has scheduled indicated the talks wouldn’t drag on and that Monti would be nominated by the end of the day. Late Saturday, Berlusconi’s party said it would support Monti, albeit with conditions.

Berlusconi’s resignation was set in motion after the Chamber of Deputies, with a vote Saturday of 380-26 with two abstentions, approved economic reforms which include increasing the retirement age starting in 2026 but do nothing to open up Italy’s inflexible labor market.

The Senate approved it a day earlier and Napolitano signed the legislation Saturday afternoon, paving the way for Berlusconi to leave office as he promised to do after losing his parliamentary majority earlier in the week. He chaired his final Cabinet meeting Saturday evening and thanked his ministers.

Berlusconi stood as lawmakers applauded him in the parliament chamber immediately after the vote. But outside his office and in front of government palazzos across town, hundreds of curiosity-seekers massing to witness the final hours of his government heckled him and his ministers.

“Shame!” and “Get Out!” the crowds yelled, many toting “Bye Bye Silvio Party” posters as they marched through downtown Rome in a festive indication that for many Italians, like financial markets, the time had come for Berlusconi to go.

Berlusconi supporters were also out in force, some singing the national anthem, but they were outnumbered.

Earlier in the day, Berlusconi lunched with Monti in a clear sign the political transition was already under way, news reports said.

While the euroskeptic Northern League remained opposed to Monti’s nomination, some lawmakers suggested they could support a Monti-led government for a few months to enact the additional EU-demanded reforms before elections are held in early 2012.

In a statement issued late Saturday, Berlusconi’s Peoples of Liberty party said its members would support Monti, but added that they would also ensure that Monti’s Cabinet, legislative agenda and the timeframe of his government meets their requirements.

Napolitano appealed for lawmakers to put the good of the country ahead of short-term, local interests — an indirect appeal to members of Berlusconi’s party and the allied Northern League to work with the new government.

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