Sun, Jul 18, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Berlusconi bows to critics and appoints new finance chief

AFP , ROME

Italy's economic ministry post was filled Friday in a bid by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to end a crisis that blew up this month when a key ally resigned and he controversially took personal command of the key portfolio.

The new head of the super-ministry for economy and finance is Domenico Siniscalco, hitherto head of the Treasury and a second-in-command in the economy ministry.

Yielding to pressure from inside his four-party coalition, Berlusconi announced Friday: "My interim period in the economy and finance ministry ends today and I am going to propose the nomination of a new minister to the head of state."

The appointment was confirmed by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Siniscalco, born in 1954, is a Turin economics professor who has been serving as director-general at the Treasury in Rome, a key post that is the equivalent of No. 2 in the economy ministry, whose incumbent focuses on privatization policy.

Berlusconi had been under pressure from coalition partners to find someone for the post after he took over the portfolio personally following the resignation of Giulio Tremonti nearly two weeks ago.

The appointment Friday was aimed at ending a government crisis after Tremonti's departure under pressure from Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini, leader of the National Alliance, another coalition member.

Tremonti was close to both Berlusconi and Umberto Bossi, flamboyant head of the Northern League, also a coalition partner.

But Bossi, currently hospitalized, was not able to ride to Tremonti's rescue in the crisis two weeks ago.

Fini expressed satisfaction Friday at Berlusconi's decision and said the new minister would be judged according to the way he observed responsiblity in government in decision-making.

Berlusconi had also come under pressure from his Christian Democrat coalition partners to relinquish the economy post, which they said concentrated too much power in his hands.

But the populist Northern League refused to endorse the new appointment Friday.

"The League refuses to agree to any replacement or any new government appointment," it said.

"Unless Tremonti returns it will not participate in any session devoted to this end," party deputy chief Roberto Calderoli said.

Siniscalco has a degree in law from Turin and a doctorate in economics from Cambridge.

Tremonti was forced out on July 3 at the demand of Fini, who had raised the stakes in the simmering government crisis by demanding a change in economic policy, threatening to quit.

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