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Italian Government Falls Amid Defections Over Budget Cutting

October 10, 1998|From Associated Press

ROME — Italy's second-longest surviving government since World War II collapsed Friday, throwing into question a new phase of financial reforms and participation in any NATO attack on Yugoslavia.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi's center-left coalition had held together during its drive to cut costs and qualify for Europe's common currency. But it lost momentum and fell apart after it reached its goal.

Communists caused its end after 2 1/2 years in power by withdrawing support over Prodi's 1999 budget, saying they wanted more spending for jobs.

Their rebellion forced Friday's vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies. Prodi lost it by a single vote, 313-312, when a lawmaker in his coalition defected.

Opposition lawmakers burst into applause after the vote. Prodi slipped away from the presidential palace so quickly that he outpaced his security agents and briefly found himself facing reporters alone. "I'm not bitter," he said.

He submitted his resignation to President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, who asked him to lead an interim government.

Scalfaro must decide whether to call early elections, a step few want and few expect, or ask Prodi or someone else to try to form a new government.

Centrist leader Francesco Cossiga appealed to leading parties of the left and right to form a caretaker government.

Prodi came to power after Italy briefly was led by a center-right coalition headed by media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, now the opposition leader.

Prodi presided over budget cuts and a temporary tax increase needed to get Italy's economy in shape for the 1999 debut of Europe's common currency. It qualified for the euro debut earlier this year.

Prodi would have had to keep cutting costs to stay in line with requirements for the European Monetary Union. Communists wanted more spending, not less.

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