Sat, Apr 22, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Berlusconi refuses to concede defeat

AP , ROME

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is refusing to concede defeat to his opponent Romano Prodi in elections early this month even as a top court confirmed the center-left coalition's majority in parliament's lower house.

Prodi, meanwhile, was working to form his Cabinet, holding daily talks with allies.

La Repubblica newspaper reported on Thursday that he plans to give the Economics Ministry -- a key post amid Italy's economic woes -- to Tommaso Padoa Schioppa, a former board member of the European Central Bank and a highly respected economist.

Prodi had lunch with Padoa Schioppa on Thursday in downtown Rome. He later told the ANSA news agency that "there are still no names for the government."

While the final breakdown of seats for the Senate was still to be announced, Prodi's two-seat majority in the upper house was widely expected to be confirmed.

The former premier and EU chief has said there are no more doubts about his victory, and on Thursday he described the center-right's refusal to concede as sad.

"Sooner or later they will recognize how things are," Prodi said. "It is very sad that there should be something like this in a mature democracy."

still combative

Berlusconi has not made any public comments since the court's announcement on Wednesday that Prodi had won the lower house by 24,755 votes -- a margin virtually unchanged from the one previously announced. The court made the announcement after a review of contested ballots.

But Italian newspapers said on Thursday that the prime minister remained as combative as ever.

"We'll fight. They'll have to deal with us," he was quoted as saying in La Repubblica, a left-leaning daily. Other newspapers had similar comments, and many reported the conservative leader has no intention of calling Prodi.

Several world leaders, including from Britain, France, Germany and Israel, have called Prodi to congratulate him. However, two close Berlusconi allies, US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, have not called Prodi yet, his office said on Thursday.

Berlusconi has remained defiant since the results of the April 9-10 election -- one of the closest in Italian history -- showed he had lost control of parliament.

For days, he has alleged irregularities and at one point he even spoke of fraud, only to quickly retract. He has said that the razor-thin margin of Prodi's victory required thorough checks and contended the vote of Italians abroad was marred by irregularities.

Berlusconi even raised the possibility of a "grand coalition" government, but the proposal was quickly dismissed by Prodi and other center-left leaders.

After the court's announcement on Wednesday, the prime minister left it up to his allies to announce further action and demand a more thorough review.

shaky support

Under Italian law, after the review of contested ballots, any further challenges or complaints would be dealt with by the electoral committees set up by the new parliament after it convenes. Such checks can take months and are not expected to stall the political process.

At least some of the prime minister's allies strayed from his position. The leader of a small centrist party in the conservative coalition, Lorenzo Cesa, offered his best wishes to Prodi, while a Cabinet minister, Stefania Prestigiacomo, urged her fellow conservatives to recognize the center-left's victory.

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