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Italy's New Prime Minister Wins Confidence Vote


Despite holding only a tiny majority in the Senate, the new Italian government of Romano Prodi survived its first confidence vote. The prime minister says the country needs a strong jolt to mark a clean break with the past.

The Senate speaker read out the result of the vote, and applause broke out in the chamber. Italy's new government, headed by Prime Minister Romano Prodi, managed to overcome its first major hurdle, a confidence vote in the Senate, where it holds only a two-seat majority.

Mr. Prodi won by 165 to 155, with his margin of victory boosted by Italy's unelected senators for life, who put their weight behind the new government. Moments later, the prime minister said it could not have gone any better.

The new government survived its first test. But Mr. Prodi is only too aware it will be no easy ride, with a coalition made up of nine parties.

One of them, Italy of Values, had threatened to vote against the government to protest the premier's decision not to appoint a minister in charge of the interests of Italians abroad. At the last moment, it voted in favor.

Mr. Prodi took office on Wednesday. In a speech to parliament outlining his program Thursday, he said Italy needs a strong jolt, not only to reverse a dire economic situation, but also to restore a culture of legality.

He vowed to overturn many of the policies defined by the previous government of Silvio Berlusconi. These include electoral rules, labor flexibility, media regulation and immigration. He also pledged to bring all Italian troops home from Iraq.

Mr. Prodi says he considers the war in Iraq and the occupation of the country a grave error that has not solved, but complicated the problem of security. The prime minister gave no timetable for withdrawal. He stressed, however, that Italy would still pursue a close relationship with the United States, in an effort to combat terrorism.

Mr. Prodi's government now faces a second and final confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies next Tuesday.

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