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Former Communist Becomes Italy's New Head of State


Former Communist Giorgio Napolitano has been elected Italy's new head of state. His election paves the way for the winner of general elections last month, Romano Prodi, to be given the mandate to form Italy's new government.

A huge applause broke out when the provisional results showed former Communist Giorgio Napolitano was elected Italy's 11th post-war WW II president. The speaker of the lower house Fausto Bertinotti later officially confirmed the result.

Bertinotti announced that the new head of state had obtained 543 votes and a long applause erupted in parliament. The number of votes was well above the minimum 505 mark required for victory.

He then announced the winner.

"I proclaim elected President of the Republic, Senator Giorgio Napolitano," he said.

Giorgio Napolitano, 80, was elected in the fourth round of voting in parliament. He is the first former communist to become president of Italy. He will be replacing President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, whose seven-year mandate expires May 18.

Mr. Napolitano was the center-left candidate and is a widely respected life senator who has also been parliament speaker and interior minister in the past. He has been known for his moderate, pro-Western stance and was among the biggest supporters of the reform that led the communists to change the party's name and drop the hammer-and-sickle symbol.

His choice paves the way for the winner of last month's general elections, Romano Prodi, to form the new government.

Mr. Prodi, who heads the center-left coalition, said Napolitano will represent all Italians, even if the center-right did not vote for him.

Outgoing prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's center-right coalition had said before the vote that it would not back Giorgio Napolitano because it opposed having a former communist as head of state.

After the vote, Mr. Berlusconi urged the new head of state to be even handed in his functions.

Mr. Berlusconi later added that there has been a military occupation by the left of all the state's highest offices.

The Italian president is now expected to take his oath of office as early as tomorrow, depending on when his predecessor resigns.