Great communicator sneaks away to boos and jeers
Italy's president raced to appoint an emergency government yesterday to face a crisis endangering the whole eurozone after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned to the jeers of thousands of protesters.
Just a few hours after Rome echoed with street parties celebrating Mr Berlusconi's departure, President Giorgio Napolitano began a rapid round of meetings to find a new prime minister and government.
"See what a beautiful day it is?" former European Commissioner Mario Monti said to reporters as he left his hotel to go to church and then to his senate office to work on forming the government.
Newspapers said Mr Berlusconi's departure marked the end of an era and spoke of the irony of how a media magnate famed for his skills in communicating with the public was seen off by jeering crowds.
Turin's 'La Stampa' called it "a sad exit from the stage," noting how he was forced to leave the presidential palace secretly via a side exit on Saturday night after handing in his resignation because a crowd shouting insults including "clown, clown" made it dangerous for him to exit through the front gate.
Cheers erupted when people heard he had resigned. People sang, danced and broke open bottles of champagne. Some protesters threw coins at Mr Berlusconi's car in a gesture reminiscent of the departure into exile of disgraced prime minister Bettino Craxi in 1993.
Mr Berlusconi, one of Italy's richest men, has dominated the country since bursting onto the political scene the following year, filling the vacuum on the right created by a corruption scandal that swept away the old order.
Opposition newspapers hailed "Liberation Day" but the pro-Berlusconi daily 'Libero' warned Italians to "watch your wallets" because Mr Monti's government would impose a host of new taxes.
Following weeks of political uncertainty and growing calls from international partners for action to control its debt, Italy's borrowing costs soared to unmanageable levels last week, threatening a Europe-wide financial meltdown.
Analysts believe Mr Monti will face strong opposition to some of the tough austerity measures he will need to implement to satisfy markets and eurozone leaders.
Outgoing Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a senior figure in the Northern League, confirmed that the party opposed the expected technocrat government.
"The decisions which Mr Monti will take must pass in parliament and I think that with such a heterogeneous majority he will have many problems. I believe this solution will lead to many problems," Mr Maroni said.
The League adamantly opposes pension reform -- it would hit older voters who are among its key supporters.
The next elections are not due until 2013 but there are widespread predictions Mr Monti will not last until then but make way for polls once he passes reforms promised to Europe.
With a public debt of more than 120pc of GDP and more than a decade of anaemic economic growth behind it, Italy is at the heart of the eurozone debt crisis and would be too big for the bloc to bail out.