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Prodi forms government

Italy`s new Prime Minister Romano Prodi rings a silver bell, to signify the start of his first Cabinet meeting, after taking office from former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at Chigi palace in Rome, yesterday.

Italy`s new Prime Minister Romano Prodi rings a silver bell, to signify the start of his first Cabinet meeting, after taking office from former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at Chigi palace in Rome, yesterday.

Romano Prodi was finally sworn in as Italy's new Prime Minister yesterday and vowed to soothe political tensions in a country split in two by the closest election in its post-war history.

Prof. Prodi, who was given the mandate to govern on Tuesday, presented his Cabinet list to President Giorgio Napolitano after protracted negotiations with his centre-left coalition partners over the distribution of portfolios.

"There is a great desire for a new start combined with a desire for cohesion and unity," Prof. Prodi said after announcing his team, drawn from eight centre-left parties.

Prof. Prodi's coalition won a razor-thin victory in the April 9-10 ballot over the centre-right bloc led by Silvio Berlusconi, who governed for a record five years and is still contesting the result of the vote.

"The first commitment will be to rebuild a spirit of solidarity and a consensus on the goals needed for the country to move forward, and that means lowering the level of tension and litigiousness," Prof. Prodi said. Ten years to the day since he began his first stint as Prime Minister, Prof. Prodi named former European Central Bank board member Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa as Economy Minister, responsible for tackling Italy's flagging growth and debt mountain.

Massimo D'Alema, who comes from the biggest party in Prof. Prodi's bloc, was made Foreign Minister and will share the role of Deputy Prime Minister with Daisy Party leader Francesco Rutelli.

Giuliano Amato, a former Prime Minister, will head the Interior Ministry. Six women, fewer than promised by Prof. Prodi, were among the 26 members of the new government.

Prof. Prodi called his Cabinet "a team, not just a group of individuals" even though he spent most of the night putting the final touches to the list, pressured by allies who have squabbled over top jobs for weeks.

The infighting laid bare the problems that Prof. Prodi will likely face as he governs with a very slim parliamentary majority stretching from Roman Catholic moderates to communists.

His government needs to get down to work quickly as rating agencies have threatened to downgrade Italy's debt unless overdue but unpopular reforms are enacted soon. But Mr Berlusconi has pledged a head-on opposition and analysts say Prof. Prodi will find it hard to push through any far-reaching policy.

Under the headline "More left than centre", Italy's leading newspaper Corriere della Sera said wrangling over Cabinet posts had skewed the government's balance from its centrist roots. "A government is born that is weighted to the left," it wrote.

Prof. Prodi's path to power since the election has been painfully slow, delayed by the need to choose a new head of state as the former President's mandate expired just after the election.

He must still win a confidence vote in the Senate, probably tomorrow, and another in the lower house early next week, before fully taking charge.

Many commentators wonder how long he can last. His first spell in government ended after two years in 1998 when the communists withdrew their support.

Mr Berlusconi, in his final news conference as Prime Minister on Tuesday, said his was "only a see you later", not a farewell.

Ministers in new Cabinet

The following is a list of members of the Cabinet of incoming Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

Prime Minister - Romano Prodi

Deputy PM and Foreign Affairs - Massimo D'Alema

Deputy PM and Culture - Francesco Rutelli

Economy and Finance - Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa

Interior - Giuliano Amato

Justice - Clemente Mastella

Defence - Arturo Parisi

Labour - Cesare Damiano

Economic Development (Industry) - Pierluigi Bersani

Education - Giuseppe Fioroni

Communications - Paolo Gentiloni

Universities and Research - Fabio Mussi

Agriculture - Paolo De Castro

Health - Livia Turco

Social Solidarity (Welfare) - Paolo Ferrero

Environment - Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio

Transport - Alessandro Bianchi

Infrastructure - Antonio Di Pietro

Prof. Prodi also named eight ministers without portfolio. They are: Linda Lanzillotta, Rosy Bindi, Giulio Santagata, Luigi Nicolais, Giovanna Melandri, Barbara Pollastrini, Emma Bonino, and Vannino Chiti.

The areas of competence that will be assigned to them later are expected to be for: regional affairs; family; government programming; parliamentary relations and reform; civil service; youth and sport; equal opportunities; EU affairs.

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