Berlusconi resigns as new gov't forms

Silvio Berlusconi resigned as Italy’s prime minister on Tuesday, ending the billionaire TV tycoon-turned-politician’s five-year stint at the country’s helm, a period that saw his Mediaset empire thrive.

Berlusconi held a final cabinet meeting, during which he told outgoing ministers that their government would be “sorely missed,” before tendering his resignation to President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

His conservative coalition lost the April 9-10 elections by a very slim margin to the center-left bloc headed by economist Romano Prodi. Prodi is now working to form a government following election of speakers of the two houses of parliament last week.

Many Italians are wondering whether the new regime may try to throw a legislative monkey wrench at Mediaset, which saw profits increase fourfold during Berlusconi’s reign, with net profit rising almost 10% to $722 million in fiscal 2005.

New Lower House speaker Fausto Bertinotti, leader of the RefoundedCommunist Party, has urged rules to make Mediaset “leaner” and to limit the web’s advertising intake; the cap was raised by the Berlusconi government.

But Prodi has played down the prospect that Mediaset be forced to shed one of its three channels. And most analysts say Italo media reforms aren’t likely soon given the new government’s razor-thin majority.

Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia remains the country’s largest single political force, will now lead the opposition.

“The new government will not have an easy life,” the pugnacious exiting premier said on his last day in power.

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