Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has offered his resignation after suffering a major defeat in a Senate vote on foreign policy that includes Italy's military mission in Afghanistan.
The government needed 160 votes to win backing for its foreign policy program, which includes continuing support for about 1,900 Italian troops serving in Afghanistan. The initiative received 158 votes.
Wednesday's vote was not binding, and analysts say there was no constitutional provision requiring Mr. Prodi to step down. However, before the vote, Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said the center-left government should resign if it failed to win majority support.
Prodi aides say consultations with party leaders will begin Thursday. It was not clear whether President Giorgio Napolitano will accept the resignation or ask Mr. Prodi to form a new government. Mr. Napolitano can also call for new elections.
The defeat is the most serious setback yet for Mr. Prodi's nine-month-old government. The coalition has faced deep political divisions on issues ranging from abortion and euthanasia, to expansion of an American military base in the northern part of the country and the role of Italian and U.S. intelligence agents in the war on terrorism.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.