Berlusconi concedes defeat at last

ITALY'S prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, finally handed in his resignation yesterday, ending weeks of political uncertainty and opening the way for centre-left leader Romano Prodi to form a new government.

Mr Berlusconi had contested his rival's wafer-thin victory in the polls three weeks ago but was forced to concede after MPs elected centre-left speakers for parliament, allowing Mr Prodi to control the assembly with his slim majority.

To rub salt into his wounds, Mr Berlusconi had to personally give notice of his resignation to the Communist who is the new leader of the lower house.

"They'll miss us - we were the best government the republic ever had," Mr Berlusconi told his final cabinet meeting. The media baron headed his country's longest-serving government in post-war history - five years.

Yesterday marked the end of a turbulent spell for the man who promised an economic miracle but instead presided over a long period of stagnation.

However, the president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, asked Mr Berlusconi to remain in office as caretaker until a new government is sworn in.

That will signal the start of a swing to the Left for the euro zone's third-largest economy as Mr Prodi brings to power his cumbersome coalition which ranges from old school Communists to Catholic moderates.

Mr Prodi welcomed the long-awaited resignation. "Now it's up to us to form a new government in the timescale that will be set out by the president," he said.

Mr Ciampi, whose period of office ends on 18 May, is under pressure to have Mr Prodi in power by then.

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