ROME — Italy's Senate voted Tuesday to allow heirs to the throne back into the country, kicking off lengthy procedures that may end the royal family's 56-year exile for collaborating with fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

In a session that was televised live, senators voted 235-19 to modify two constitutional clauses to clear the way for the Savoy family's return more than five decades after Italians banished them.

"Together with my family we welcome with profound emotion and satisfaction the success of this first important Senate vote," said Prince Vittorio Emanuele, 64, in a statement. If the monarchy had not been abolished, Emanuele would be king.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi set the stage for the first of four parliamentary votes by declaring it was time to allow the prince and his 29-year-old son back into the country.

There is no suggestion, however, of Italy changing its status as a republic or the royal family playing a part in politics.

"The vast majority of Italians want to put an end to this exile which today has absolutely no justification," Berlusconi told reporters.

In an apparent bid to sway parliamentarians, the heirs to the throne pledged allegiance to the Italian Republic last weekend, but didn't convince everyone.

"Our vote has a dose of indignation," said Green Sen. Natale Ripamonti. "They are responsible for the blackest part of Italian history."

But many Italians think the ban is outdated, according to some opinion polls, and politicians seem to agree.

"It is an historically mature decision," said Giuliano Amato, of the EU Convention and a former prime minister.

King Vittorio Emanuele III and all his male heirs were banned from Italy by a 1948 constitutional amendment two years after Italians voted for a republic to replace the monarchy which had cooperated with Mussolini.

The Savoy royal family has lived in exile ever since, mostly in Portugal and Switzerland.

Previous governments had talked about lifting the ban, but parliament had never voted on it.

Tuesday's proposal, which will still ban the royal family from politics, now heads to the Chamber of Deputies and then faces a second vote in both houses after a three-month waiting period. The changes could still require a national referendum.

Ironically, the prospect of the royals' return has not pleased the family's most loyal supporters.

The prince's pledge of allegiance to the republic broke the hearts of Italians hoping for their own Prince William or King Juan Carlos.

"It was shameful and unnecessary," said Sergio Boschiero, secretary general of the Italian Monarchist Union which he said represented 70,000 people.

"The royals never abdicated, never used the word 'republic' in all their years of exile, and now the prince and his son have relinquished their right to the throne," he said.

The 4,000 volunteer Guards of Honor who take turns watching over the tombs of Italy's first two kings in Rome's Pantheon were also up in arms.

"Vittorio Emanuele has acted like a criminal," Pio Tagliabue, one of the volunteers, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. "His words have hurt me."