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Berlusconi Resigns as Italian PM


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has resigned, paving the way for a center-left government led by Romano Prodi. His resignation came more than three weeks after Italy's general elections.

For weeks, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi refused to concede defeat in Italy's general elections. His challenger, Romano Prodi, who heads a center-left coalition, won by a narrow margin. Berlusconi finally went to the presidential palace to meet with the Italian head of state.

A presidential spokesman read a statement that said that Berlusconi had resigned and President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi has asked him to remain temporarily as caretaker prime minister.

Earlier, Berlusconi has presided over a short cabinet meeting in which he announced his decision to resign. Berlusconi was elected leader of the center-right coalition in 2001 and has been the longest serving prime minister in Italy since World War Two.

After learning of Berlusconi's resignation, Prodi - the winner of the elections - said democracy goes on, sometimes slowly, but it goes on. He expressed the hope that the political vacuum would not last long.

Berlusconi has pledged to lead a fierce opposition.

Meanwhile, Prodi has been working on his line-up for Italy's new government. It is up to the Italian president to give Prodi the mandate, but it remains unclear whether a new president will need to be elected first, because Ciampi's term expires later this month.

Ciampi had indicated he wanted his successor to give the new prime minister his mandate. But there has been widespread speculation that Ciampi might change his mind to put an end to the political delay.

Ciampi has stressed the need for Italy to quickly revive the country's zero-growth economy. He has also said political tensions must ease if the nation is to work together on that goal.

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