President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi began talks with Italy's political leaders on Thursday to try to assemble a new government that &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/fun/2003/02/06/43091.html ' target=_blank>Silvio Berlusconi, who resigned as prime minister on Wednesday, is again expected to lead.
Ciampi will hold formal consultations with all parliamentary parties until noon (0600 EDT) on Friday, after which he will decide if Berlusconi has the necessary support to take back the reins.
Berlusconi is treating his resignation as a formality, a step required by the constitution if a prime minister wants to make a major reshuffle, but commentators say the fractious center-right will not easily agree on a new balance of power.
If Berlusconi fails to put his team back together, Ciampi would almost certainly be forced to call a snap general election, one year ahead of time, tells Reuters.
Mr Berlusconi, 68, will run the country in caretaker mode pending crisis talks to form a new government, based on the same coalition partners, within days.
"I'm sure this difficult moment can be overcome," he told the Senate during his resignation speech yesterday. "This majority was chosen by the electorate to govern, and it will do so until the end of its mandate."
Mr Berlusconi's House of Freedoms coalition served a record 1410 days -- the longest since Benito Mussolini's fascist dictatorship of 1922-43. The government had a mandate to serve another year, but Mr Berlusconi quit to avoid facing a parliamentary vote of confidence or a snap poll, both of which he risked losing.
Two of the government's five parties -- the Union of Christian Democrats (UDC) and the New Italian Socialist Party -- withdrew their ministers and pulled out of the coalition last week. This week a third party, the powerful right-wing National Alliance led by Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, threatened to do the same. The Italian constitution requires the prime minister to step down ahead of a major cabinet reshuffle, so Mr Berlusconi's resignation gives him the chance to appease the rebels by changing his policies and front bench.
An explosion of household gas occurred in a nine-storeyed apartment building in the city of Shakhty, the Rostov region of Russia. The blast destroyed two storeys of the building