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Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigns

Updated 2/21/2007 9:21 PM ET

By Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY

ROME — Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi
resigned Wednesday when his coalition
government fractured over foreign policy,
including his decision to keep Italian troops
alongside U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Prodi submitted his resignation to President
Giorgio Napolitano after a humiliating defeat
in the Italian Senate. It was intended to boost
political backing for Prodi's foreign policy.

Napolitano is likely to indicate on Thursday
whether he will call elections or ask Prodi —
or someone else — to form a new
government. The next government will be
Italy's 62nd since the end of World War II.

Prodi took power nine months ago but lacked
a clear mandate after a razor-thin election
victory in April over incumbent Silvio Berlusconi,
a media tycoon.

The result gave Prodi's coalition a one-vote majority in the Senate, but three defections Wednesday left him with 158 senators in his
corner — two short of the 160 he needed for passage of the foreign policy measure.

Italy's 1,800 troops in Afghanistan are part of the NATO peacekeeping force there. Many members of the broad center-left Prodi
coalition are pacifists who oppose sending Italian troops abroad.

    The constitution did not require Prodi to step down, but Foreign Minister Massimo
    D'Alema — a two-time prime minister and a potential candidate to succeed Prodi
    — said before the vote that the government should step down if it failed to win
    enough support in the Senate.

    "If Prodi would have continued, his government would have been paralyzed," said
    Giorgio Prestigiacomo, a political scientist at Florence's Catholic University.
    "Better to let a new government — whether he leads it or someone else does —
    start fresh."

    The last time an Italian prime minister resigned was in April 2005, when
    Berlusconi stepped down after infighting in his coalition. He was able to form a
    new government within days.

    It might be tougher for Prodi to follow suit. His deficit-reduction plan, featuring tax
    increases and cuts in public spending, has hurt his popularity ratings.

Another divisive issue has been his government's decision to support a plan to double the size of the U.S. military base in Vicenza,
northern Italy. The base houses troops of the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade.

The expansion plan, set in motion by Berlusconi's government and backed by Prodi, drew tens of thousands of protesters during the
past weekend.

"Prodi's approval level (percentage) is in the mid-30s, and that makes things tough for him," said Maria Rossi, co-director of the
polling firm Opinioni.

Prodi's resignation could open the door for a long-shot bid by Berlusconi or another member of the opposition to try to form a new
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Italian leftist Senator Fernando Rossi reacts after the
vote at the Senate in Rome today. The Italian
government failed to secure a vote of support for its
foreign policy, leading the opposition to call for the
resignation of Prime Minister Romano Prodi and his
Italian right-wing supporters demonstrate in front of Chigi Palace, the prime minister's residence,
in central Rome after the vote at the Senate today. By Tiziana Fabi, AFP/Getty Images