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Italian leader offers to resign when reforms pass

ROME — Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy offered a conditional resignation Tuesday, agreeing to step down but only after Parliament passes an austerity package before the country will go to early elections.

Berlusconi had failed to reach a parliamentary majority in a crucial vote earlier Tuesday, increasing the pressure on him to resign as markets continued to drive up Italy's borrowing costs to record levels.

Berlusconi met Tuesday evening with the president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano. A statement issued by the president's office after the meeting said Berlusconi had acknowledged "the implications of the result of the day's vote in the lower house" but at the same time expressed "concerns" about the need to pass urgent reforms asked by Italy's "European partners."

Under Berlusconi's offer, once he formally stepped down, the president would begin talks with parliamentary leaders to decide whether to go to elections or try to form a new government with the existing political assembly.

There was no timetable on Berlusconi's conditional resignation offer. The additional measures Italy had pledged to the European Union have not been presented to parliament yet, although Berlusconi has said in the past that they would arrive in the Senate by mid-November. It was unclear how opposition lawmakers would respond.

Earlier in the day, the prime minister won a budget vote in Parliament, but the tally showed he no longer had the support of the majority. The vote had taken on immense political importance after the defection in recent days of a number of lawmakers in Berlusconi's party.

Berlusconi's coalition received 308 votes in favor of passing the budget bill, but 321 lawmakers did not vote — a clear sign that "Mr. Berlusconi no longer has a majority," said Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the opposition Democratic Party. He called on Berlusconi to immediately hand in his resignation to Napolitano.

Speaking Tuesday after a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels, Olli Rehn, European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, called Italy's economic position "very worrying."

Italian leader offers to resign when reforms pass 11/08/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 9:55pm]
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