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Italy cabinet swearing-in marred by shooting

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Italy's new coalition government was sworn in on Sunday, but a ceremony symbolising a fresh start for the recession-wracked country was overshadowed by a shooting outside government headquarters.

As Prime Minister Enrico Letta and his 21 ministers took the oath of office in the presidential palace, an unemployed man about a kilometre away opened fire on policemen guarding the headquarters, wounding two and sparking fear among tourists.

The attack cast a shadow over the swearing-in of a team meant to bring hope after over two months of bitter post-election deadlock watched closely by European partners and international investors.

Letta, from the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), was appointed by President Giorgio Napolitano after the PD won February elections but without the majority needed to govern, sparking political gridlock.

The 46-year-old, one of the European Union's youngest prime ministers, is expected to unveil his programme in a parliamentary session on Monday, before the government is put to a confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday.

The deadlock had thwarted efforts to end the worst recession in Italy in 20 years, and Letta has said he wants to move quickly to tackle unemployment -- currently 11.6 percent -- and boost growth.

The leftist leader also wants to move away from the austerity imposed by his technocrat predecessor Mario Monti to protect Italy from the eurozone debt crisis -- a promise which will be followed closely by investors concerned about Italy's two-trillion-euro ($2.6-trillion) debt mountain.

Unveiling his new cabinet Saturday, Letta said he was proud to have included younger ministers -- the average age is 53 -- and more women to help renew a tired political scene and rebuild confidence in the discredited political class.

World leaders rushed to congratulate the new prime minister, with EU president Herman Van Rompuy vowing continued support from the bloc for Rome's efforts to overcome its economic difficulties.

"I am sure that under his leadership, there will be a strong impetus for political stability in Italy," he said, calling on the country to continue "the necessary reforms for growth and jobs, whilst respecting sound public finances."

US President Barack Obama "warmly congratulated" Letta on his appointment, while French President Francois Hollande said the two countries would work together "to get growth back, fight against unemployment and deepen solidarity and responsibility within the eurozone."

The shooting that overshadowed the ceremony was an isolated incident, said Angelo Alfano, newly appointed deputy prime minister and interior minister, but some blamed the economic crisis hounding ordinary Italians and called for the new government to act.

"This has its roots in an increasingly widespread social desperation. The dramatic problems the country is living through call for strong, radical decisions," said Rosy Bindi, former PD president.

Police tackled the aggressor, Luigi Preiti, after he shot two officers in the neck and leg and begged them to kill him, according to media reports. He was reportedly depressed after failing to find a job.

The magistrate who interviewed Preiti, Pierfilippo Laviani, told the ANSA news agency "he wanted to shoot the politicians (the cabinet) but as he couldn't get near them, he shot the police."

Letta will have his work cut out keeping the fragile coalition together, said commentators, following a hard-fought deal between his PD party and their avowed rivals, the centre-right People of Freedom party (PDL).

Analysts said the exclusion of any big political names was a bid to avoid infighting within the coalition and acknowledge a growing call from the electorate for change.

The appointment of Alfano, a protege of Silvio Berlusconi and PDL secretary, appeared to be an effort to appease the right but angered enemies of the scandal-hit former premier.

Berlusconi -- currently on trial for paying for sex with a 17-year-old prostitute -- has seen his popularity ratings rise, and fought to have his right-hand man in pole position.

Fabrizio Saccomanni, a director at Italy's central bank, is finance and economy minister, while Emma Bonino, a former European Commissioner, is foreign minister.

The new government is bound to bring some relief to anxious international observers, after the warning from ratings agency Moody's Friday of an "elevated risk" that the political stalemate would harm investor confidence.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130428/italy-cabinet-swearing-marred-shooting