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Foreign policy Prodi's bane

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Romano Prodi
Romano Prodi

Vaiju Naravane

Several Left wing supporters abstain from Senate debate

Paris: The resignation of Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi on Wednesday evening came as no surprise.

He decided to throw in the towel after his Centre-Left coalition lost a Senate vote on foreign policy, including Italy's military deployment in Afghanistan.

His exit is a throwback to Italian politics of the 70s and 80s when governments changed with alarming frequency.

President Giorgio Napolitano will now enter into consultations to find a new Premier.

He could ask Mr Prodi to lead the new government if it appears that the Centre-Left leader has a clear majority.

Rife with tension

Since its formation last May, his nine-party coalition that takes in every political hue from conservative Catholics to the Greens and radical Communists, has been rife with tension and dissension.

Mr. Prodi's Union coalition won an election last April with just 24,000 votes, ending media magnate Silvio Berlusconi's five-year rule.

The Government has a one-seat majority in Parliament and needed 160 votes in the Senate debate to get a formal motion of support.

But only 158 Senators voted in favour and 136 opposed the Government.

Several Left wing Senators were absent from the upper chamber.

Though it was not a formal vote of confidence, Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said on Tuesday that the Government would "go home" if it lost.

"It is a grave, serious and worrying fact not to obtain a majority for the speech of a Foreign Minister," acknowledged Vannino Chiti, the Minister for Relations with Parliament.

The Communists and Greens have systematically opposed keeping Italian troops in Afghanistan and the extension of the U.S. military base in Vicenza.

The decision to extend the base was taken by Mr Berlusconi, whose five years in office were marked by an exceptional closeness to U.S. President George Bush.

Mr. Prodi confirmed that decision on January 17, inviting the anger of many of his coalition partners.

Familiar ground

Italian public opinion was opposed to the war in Iraq but Mr Berlusconi chose to ride roughshod over popular sentiment, sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of Mr Prodi's first moves on taking office was to bring home the soldiers from Iraq. But he has consistently maintained that the deployment in Afghanistan was a largely humanitarian mission sponsored by the United Nations mission, even though NATO troops made up the bulk of the fighting force.

No stranger to the dangers of running Italian governments, Mr Prodi has served as Prime Minister twice before, in 1997 and 1998.


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