Italy's Berlusconi says he will resign to make way for a Prodi government

Romano Prodi won his first parliamentary battle on Saturday when his candidates were elected speakers of the two houses of parliament, despite a bitterly fought race that indicated his center-left coalition's difficulty in controlling the Senate.

Hours later, Italian news agencies ANSA and Apcom reported that outgoing Premier Silvio Berlusconi said he would resign Tuesday, clearing the way for a Prodi government. But the reports did not directly quote him as saying that. "The Cabinet meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday," Berlusconi said, according to ANSA, in response to a question on when he would resign. The Cabinet is expected to formalize Berlusconi's resignation.

Prodi, whose center-left forces won the April 9-10 elections, is expected to receive the mandate from Italy's president to form a new government. But it was not clear when that would happen because the president's term expires May 18 and he has indicated he wants to leave the task to his successor, reports AP.

A Berlusconi-backed president of the Senate would have made it even more difficult for Prodi to implement changes in Europe's least-competitive economy. Prodi promised to boost competitiveness and stimulate growth by cutting labor costs by 10 billion euros ($12.4 billion) within a year.

"I'm very, very, very happy," Prodi said after the Senate vote today. "We straightened ourselves out."

Berlusconi, 69, congratulated Bertinotti for winning the Chamber, and underlined Prodi's difficulties.

"Yesterday's show in the Senate was indecent," Berlusconi said today, Ansa news agency reported.

Marini's appointment as Senate leader may further weaken Prodi's hand. As president of the Senate, Marini will be forced to abstain in voting in the legislature, leaving Prodi with a one-seat edge, informs Bloomberg.

The future of Prodi, who won the narrowest of victories in national elections nearly three weeks ago, would have been in doubt had he failed to win this first piece of business in the new parliament, which opened Friday.

But this first vote revealed the problems he is likely to face in office: Throughout the voting, his coalition of nine disparate parties faced challenges both internally and from the center-right. Berlusconi's allies, in fact, made clear that they would challenge Prodi at every turn — a particular danger with so slim a majority.

"It is our moral duty, more than our political one, to make this government fall as quickly as possible," Roberto Maroni, Berlusconi's outgoing minister of welfare, said in an interview on a Web site on Friday as the first day of voting began, according to Houston Chronicle.

O.Ch.