Italy's Berlusconi resigns
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi resigned Saturday after parliament's lower chamber passed European-demanded austerity measures, ending a 17-year political era and setting in motion a transition aimed at bringing the country back from the brink of economic crisis.
(The Associated Press) -- by NICOLE WINFIELD --
ROME — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi resigned Saturday after parliament's lower chamber passed European-demanded austerity measures, ending a 17-year political era and setting in motion a transition aimed at bringing the country back from the brink of economic crisis.
A chorus of Handel's "Alleluia," performed by a few dozen singers and classical musicians, rang out in front of the president's palace as thousands of Italians poured into downtown Rome to rejoice at the end of Berlusconi's scandal-marred reign.
Hecklers shouted "Buffoon, Buffoon!" as Berlusconi's motorcade entered and exited the presidential palace, where he tendered his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano, the palace said in a statement...
Berlusconi stood as lawmakers applauded him in the parliament chamber immediately after the vote. But outside his office and in front of government palazzos across town, hundreds of curiosity-seekers massing to witness the final hours of his government heckled him and his ministers.
"Shame!" and "Get Out!" the crowds yelled, many toting "Bye Bye Silvio Party" posters as they marched through downtown Rome in a festive indication that for many Italians, like financial markets, the time had come for Berlusconi to go.
Berlusconi supporters were also out in force, some singing the national anthem, but they were outnumbered...
It was an ignoble end for the 75-year-old billionaire media mogul, who came to power for the first time in 1994 using a soccer chant, "Let's Go Italy," as the name of his political party and selling Italians on a dream of prosperity with his own personal story of transformation from cruise-ship crooner to Italy's richest man.
While he became Italy's longest-serving postwar premier, Berlusconi's three stints as premier were tainted by corruption trials and accusations that he used his political power to help his business interests.
His last term has been marred by sex scandals, "bunga bunga" parties and criminal charges he paid a 17-year-old girl to have sex — accusations he denies.
Italy is under intense pressure to quickly put in place a new and effective government to replace him, one that can push through even more painful austerity measures to deal with its staggering debts, which stand at $2.6 trillion, or a huge 120 percent of economic output. Italy has to roll over a little more than $410 billion of its debts next year alone.
The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, said Saturday that Italy's political transition over the next few days should send a "clear sign of clarification and of credibility" that the country is now on the right path to get its finances back in order.
The IMF has a key role to play over the next few months in overseeing Italy's efforts to pull itself back from a Greek-style economic disaster, monitoring how it implements austerity measures to rein in debt and spur growth, which is projected at a scant 0.6 percent this year and 0.3 percent next year.
Amid market turmoil last week, Berlusconi was forced to ask for IMF monitoring of Italy's finances, a humiliating prospect for the eurozone's third-largest economy and an embarrassment for the long-defiant Berlusconi...MORE...LINK
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