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Forming A New Government

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ROME (AP) _ The Italian president consulted with political leaders Friday in talks on the formation of a new government following the resignation of Premier Romano Prodi's nine-month-old Cabinet.

Prodi stepped down Wednesday evening after an embarrassing parliamentary defeat over foreign policy, including the government's plan to keep troops in Afghanistan. He is staying on in a caretaker role.

Earlier Friday, Prodi emerged from a late night meeting of his center-left coalition with agreement on a plan that could help him form a new government and return to office.

The first item on that 12-point plan, described as a binding agenda for any new Prodi government, calls for respecting Italy's international commitments in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The plan also gives the premier the final word on any disagreement in the squabbling coalition.

Leaders emerging from the meeting indicated that Prodi had lined up enough support in his bid to quickly return to office, securing pledges from partners that their party lawmakers would give him the vote of confidence in Parliament that a new government would need.

President Giorgio Napolitano has been holding talks to determine which politician has enough backing in Parliament to form a viable government. On Friday, he was meeting first with members of the conservative opposition and was scheduled to hold talks with center-left leaders in the afternoon.

Once the consultations at the presidential palace conclude, Napolitano might ask Prodi or another leader from his coalition to form a new government. He might also tap an institutional figure above the political fray to form a Cabinet _ possibly with broad support from both coalitions _ or might call early elections.

Prodi narrowly defeated incumbent Premier Silvio Berlusconi in elections last year to end five years of conservative rule. The win gave Prodi only a paper-thin majority in the Senate, where his bid to get Communists and Greens to back his foreign policy failed on Wednesday.

Berlusconi wants early elections or a broad coalition government.

``We asked that there be no new editions of a government that has already done enough damage, compromising the country's international credibility,'' the former premier said after meeting with the president.

Observers say Napolitano is unlikely to call elections, which now are due in 2011, as the current proportional representation system is seen as encouraging small parties and creating instability.
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