- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2007

ROME (AP) — Italy’s president gave Romano Prodi another shot yesterday, asking him to remain as prime minister and face a confidence vote in parliament, while Prodi supporters courted outside senators in a frantic effort to end the country’s political crisis.

Mr. Prodi stepped down Wednesday after an embarrassing parliamentary defeat over foreign policy, including the government’s plan to keep troops in Afghanistan. Defections by radical leftists were to blame.

“I will seek a vote of confidence as soon as possible, with renewed impetus and a united and determined coalition,” Mr. Prodi said after meeting with President Giorgio Napolitano.

But Mr. Prodi’s majority in the Senate is slim and his allies, ranging from Catholic centrists to Communists, have proven unreliable. Center-left leaders have been shopping for votes among moderates and Catholics to broaden their margin and avert what would be a disastrous defeat in the Senate.

“It’s a meat market of senators,” said Fabrizio Cicchitto, a leading member of the opposition Forza Italia party. “We have reached a point of unbelievable degradation.”

Opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi denounced the center-left efforts, saying senators in his center-right coalition were being bandied about as a commodity, and he called for new elections.

The opposition “is protesting, and will protest with vigor and will commit in every way to give the country an authoritative majority,” Mr. Berlusconi said.

The president said there was not enough support for a broad coalition government, as demanded by Mr. Berlusconi, a former prime minister, and other conservatives.

Mr. Napolitano also said most party leaders agreed that early elections were pointless without a change in Italy’s electoral law — which has increased the influence of small parties.

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