Prodi prepares for power, faces first test to his leadership |

Prodi prepares for power, faces first test to his leadership

ROME – Italy’s incoming prime minister, still waiting for his opponent to concede, took a call of congratulations on Friday from President Bush – more than 10 days after the disputed election that brought his squabbling coalition to power.Romano Prodi, a center-left former premier, was preparing for his return to power while trying to hold together the potentially unwieldy coalition. His defeated opponent, Silvio Berlusconi, has refused to explicitly concede, but on Friday alluded to a future Prodi government – if only to say it was doomed – and referred to his own “resignation.””I think theirs will be a parenthesis, an interruption in our path toward a future of development, progress and freedom,” the conservative leader told supporters in the northeastern city of Trieste.Bush, a close Berlusconi friend, called Prodi and “said he looks forward to working with him, and looked forward to seeing him again soon,” said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, referring to Prodi as “prime minister-elect.”Squabbling within Prodi’s coalition, meanwhile, raised questions about the stability of his future government.The mainstream Democrats of the Left had been fighting the Communist Refoundation, which still proudly displays the hammer and sickle in its flag, over who should become speaker of the lower house of parliament, the country’s third-highest office.The dispute was resolved but gave Prodi a taste of what might lie ahead, highlighting divisions within a coalition that includes market-oriented, mainstream leftists, communists, Catholics and secular radicals.Prodi, a former European Union chief, has played down potential divisions, but many analysts have expressed doubts that his government can last and effectively tackle the country’s economic problems, which include rapidly declining competitiveness, high public debt and growing job insecurity.Italy’s top court this week certified Prodi’s razor-thin victory in the lower house of parliament.Berlusconi, a billionaire media mogul who has demanded the vote be rechecked, said at a rally Friday that he has not called Prodi and did not intend to call him. He did, however, appear to acknowledge that his days were numbered, saying it would be up to Italy’s president to tell him when it was time to resign.He promised a strong fight as the opposition.”I think that by using all the means that parliamentary regulations allow us to use, we will be able to make them inoffensive,” he said of a Prodi government.In other remarks published in an interview Friday, Berlusconi vowed to keep up the fight outside of parliament. Under Italian law, further challenges to the vote count would be handled by election committees set up by the new parliament, a process that could take weeks and is not expected to stall the formation of Prodi’s government.Prodi has dismissed Berlusconi’s resistance as “sad,” but said it would have no bearing on his schedule. It will be weeks before Prodi formally takes over the Italian government.Vail, Colorado

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