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Craxi Trying to Rebuild 5-Party Coalition in Italy

October 22, 1985|DON A. SCHANCHE | Times Staff Writer

ROME — Bettino Craxi was named prime minister-designate Monday and began trying to reassemble the five-party coalition government that collapsed last week over his handling of the Achille Lauro affair.

His selection by President Francesco Cossiga to attempt to form the next government gave Craxi, Italy's first Socialist prime minister, the green light to fly to New York this week for a summit of Western leaders called by President Reagan.

The previous government fell last Friday after Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini and his Republican Party quit the ruling coalition.

Leaders of the five parties indicated that they would go along with a second Craxi government, Italy's 45th since World War II, although Craxi still faces difficulties in gaining Spadolini's full cooperation in putting the fragile coalition back together.

His aides, however, said that he expects enough progress in the next 48 hours to warrant his departure Wednesday for the Thursday summit in New York, called to discuss Western strategy in advance of Reagan's meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev in Geneva on Nov. 19-20.

"I will immediately start work to resolve the political crisis, which does not lend itself to easy solutions," Craxi said after Cossiga ended a weekend of doubt by naming him prime minister-designate.

Spadolini's Republicans, in withdrawing from the government coalition, complained that they were not consulted when Italy let Palestine Liberation Organization official Abul Abbas, the suspected mastermind in the hijacking of the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro, escape a U.S. arrest warrant by fleeing to Yugoslavia.

Despite a general acknowledgment among all five parties that Craxi should reassemble the coalition of Christian Democrats, Socialists, Republicans, Social Democrats and Liberals, observers said he may have difficulty calming the Republicans unless he is prepared to make at least a few concessions to Spadolini, a longtime Craxi foe.

Spadolini's party is staunchly pro-American, pro-Israel and anti-PLO and has demanded that Craxi re-define Italian Mideast policy to bring it more in line with the policies of the United States and Israel. It also demanded that Craxi consult more closely during times of crisis such as the hijacking.

Relations With PLO

Craxi, a Socialist, and Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti, who represents the dominant Christian Democratic party in the coalition, have long irritated Spadolini by their warm relations with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Both have defended their Palestinian contacts as necessary to allow Italy a key role as a conciliator and go-between in Mideast diplomacy.

Spadolini, who also is said to carry a personal grudge against Craxi for twice unseating him from the prime ministership in 1982, expressed outrage that Craxi and Andreotti called on Arafat for help in getting the four Achille Lauro hijackers to surrender, then let Abbas escape without first consulting him.

The prime minister, whose first government lasted 26 months, making it the second most enduring in Italy's postwar history, Monday began consultations with all parties, including the Communists. Craxi hopes to rule until the present Parliament expires in 1988.

Fear of Long Crisis

Noting that prolonged political crises here often trigger worse problems than those that provoked the crises, Craxi said, "I hope that the necessary clarifications and agreements can be realized rapidly . . . to guarantee the continuity of government."

Spadolini, despite his reservations about Craxi's policies, joined the leaders of the other coalition parties Saturday in admitting that there was no viable alternative to a five-party government.

A fence-mending letter from Reagan, expressing eagerness for Craxi to join the Western talks Thursday, is believed to have given the prime minister-designate an extra trump card in bringing Spadolini and his party back into the coalition.

Newspapers Backed Craxi

Italian newspapers almost unanimously backed Craxi in his handling of the cruise ship hijacking and its aftermath.

The newspapers also supported his bitter complaints that American leaders had ridden roughshod over Italy in their attempts to seize the hijackers and Abbas after the EgyptAir 737 carrying them out of Egypt was intercepted by U.S. warplanes and forced to land on the Italian island of Sicily.

U.S. officials said last Friday that the Reagan Administration originally planned to circumvent the Italians altogether and take the hijackers and Abbas to the United States for trial.

One of Italy's few regular opinion polls, published by the weekly Il Mundo, showed a 6% rise in Craxi's popularity after the United States protested his release of Abbas. The Milan stock market jumped about 4% Monday after a sharp drop Friday following the government's collapse.

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