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Italian premier resigns after losing Senate vote on mission in Afghanistan

SHARE Italian premier resigns after losing Senate vote on mission in Afghanistan

ROME — Premier Romano Prodi resigned Wednesday after nine months in office following an embarrassing loss by his center-left government in the Senate on foreign policy, including Italy's military mission in Afghanistan.

Prodi aides did not rule out the possibility that President Giorgio Napolitano would ask Prodi to try to form a new government, and from first discussions among some allies, support for another Prodi government seemed to be building.

"We are ready to reconfirm our full faith in the Prodi government," said Dario Franceschini, a leader of the Olive Tree, the largest grouping in Prodi's coalition.

Napolitano's office said political consultations would begin Thursday on which leaders might have enough support to form a new government. In the meantime, it said, the president, who met with Prodi on Wednesday night, had asked him to stay on in a caretaker role.

The loss, by two votes in the Senate, came on a bid by Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema to rally the often bickering partners in the coalition, which range from Christian Democrats to Communists.

He was hoping to the allies would close ranks in the vote on foreign policy, including Italy's military mission in Afghanistan, but his bid backfired.

"Foreign policy involves the role and image of Italy in the world and the life of our soldiers committed to international peace mission," said conservative opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi, whom Prodi had defeated in elections in April. The loss meant Prodi had the "obligation" to resign, Berlusconi insisted.

Italy has 1,800 troops in Afghanistan, which were sent in by Berlusconi. The current government has agreed to keep the troops there, sparking opposition from its own Communist allies.

A decree refinancing the Afghan mission is awaiting parliamentary approval. It was passed by the Cabinet last month, but three radical leftist ministers walked out of the room to signal their opposition.

Government decrees need to be converted into law by parliament. In this case, parliament has until the end of March to convert it.

A centrist opposition leader, Pier Ferdinando Casini, said it would be tough for Prodi to try to put together a new government.

"He pretends not to see" his problems in mustering a majority, Casini said in an interview on state TV. "If he wants to go ahead, good luck" in trying to form a new government, but "the country is paying the price," Casini said.

While Prodi's backers had a razor-thin majority on paper in the Senate, which failed to come through for him in Wednesday's vote, his coalition partners have a more comfortable margin in the lower Chamber of Deputies.