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Italian leftist Letta receives PM nomination

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Italian leftist Enrico Letta was nominated to be the new prime minister on Wednesday, bringing to an end a bitter two-month deadlock on forming a new government with the imminent launch of a coalition between right, centre and left.

Letta said many Italians were "suffering" from the economic crisis and promised to tackle job losses, company closures, growing poverty as well as the lack of opportunity for young people.

"This is an enormous and unacceptable emergency," the 46-year-old told reporters at the presidential palace in Rome after receiving a formal nomination from President Giorgio Napolitano.

Letta, a pro-European, also said that as premier he would "strongly commit to a change of course for European policies too focused on austerity, which is no longer enough".

A three-time minister and moderate left-winger, Letta will have to work hard to bring together the bickering parties which have held up a government deal and restore public confidence in politics.

After months of political deals, betrayals and empty promises, long-suffering Italians said they were relieved Napolitano had elected an experienced but fresh-faced figure.

"He is a good compromise between the old and new guard. All eyes are on him now to see if he can pull Italy out of the crisis," said Clelia Giordano, a 63-year-old piano teacher walking in central Rome.

The nominee will begin a series of meetings with political parties on Thursday to form his coalition government, which is expected to be fully installed by the end of the week.

The right's Silvio Berlusconi has already demanded that the new government refund an unpopular housing tax in exchange for its support, and Letta's own party may also prove a problematic coalition partner.

The Democratic Party (PD) has been extremely unwilling to countenance working with the right, and its influential former chairwoman, Rosy Bindi, said this week that it was not Letta's time.

Financial experts welcomed the news but warned the new government may not last, with analysts from French investment bank Natixis and British lender Barclays forecasting a return to the polls next year.

Italian stocks fell sharply after the nomination announced, although they recovered later in the day and finished the session 0.44 percent higher.

Letta, who became Italy's youngest ever minister in 1998, set himself apart by arriving for the nomination meeting at the wheel of his own car -- an Italian-branded Fiat and a rarity in a country where politicians are usually chauffeur-driven.

"We need to regain credibility. We need a different kind of Italian politics," he said after his nomination, promising to cut the number of lawmakers in parliament and reform a controversial electoral law blamed for much of the current mess.

Adding to Letta's cross-party credentials is the fact that his uncle, Gianni Letta, has been Berlusconi's right-hand man for many years -- although critics say that highlights precisely the type of nepotism that is holding Italy back.

The eurozone's third largest economy has been mired in a political crisis ever since a general election in February in which a centre-left coalition led by the Democratic Party came first but failed to win an overall parliamentary majority.

The gridlock has spooked European capitals and investors had warned that prolonged uncertainty could lead to instability on the financial markets for a recession-ravaged economy that is struggling to keep its public finances in check.

The combination of right, centre and left mirrors the loose alliance that backed Mario Monti's outgoing government until Berlusconi pulled his party's support for it in December, precipitating early elections.

The PD has been badly divided since the inconclusive result of the February 24-25 polls and its entire leadership resigned on Friday after two of its presidential nominations failed to get voted because of a rebellion within party ranks.

The Five Star Movement, a new protest party that won a quarter of the vote and came third in the elections, said it would be in opposition.

The movement's leader, ex-comedian Beppe Grillo, slammed Letta's nomination, accusing the leftist of being in league with his shadowy uncle Gianni.

Monti's government remains in office until a new one is formed but it has only interim powers.

The former EU commissioner welcomed the nomination, saying that Letta would "efficiently guide Italy on a demanding path".

Monti said Letta would "consolidate Italy's credibility internationally, as well as Italy's role in strategic choices for Europe".

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130424/italian-leftist-letta-receives-pm-nomination-0