Shooting casts shadow over new Italy cabinet oath

Italy's new coalition government was sworn in on Sunday, but a ceremony symbolising a fresh start for a country mired in recession and dogged by political feuds 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 of them and sparking fear among tourists.

Interior Minister Angelo Alfano said the "tragic and criminal act" was an isolated incident, but many 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 president of the Democratic Party (PD).

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 ANSA news agency "he wanted to shoot the politicians (the cabinet) but as he couldn't get near them, he shot the police."

The shooting 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.

Letta was appointed by President Giorgio Napolitano after the centre-left won February elections but without the majority needed to govern.

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.

EU president Herman Van Rompuy congratulated Letta and vowed continued support from the bloc for Rome's efforts to stave off bankruptcy.

"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."

Commentators 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.

Letta's deputy prime minister and interior minister is Alfano, protege of former premier Silvio Berlusconi and secretary of the centre-right People of Freedom party (PDL).

While the appointment appeared to be aimed at appeasing the right, it angered critics of the scandal-tainted billionaire tycoon, who they claim will have a grasp on the reins of power.

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.

Clinching cross-party unity had proved tricky, with Letta's Democratic Party (PD) loath to work with its hated rival Berlusconi.

The only alternative would have been fresh elections, which neither side would necessarily have won with the majority needed -- although recent polls show that Berlusconi might have emerged victorious.

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.