Berlusconi vies to return to power

Prodi's defeat could lead to new elections

In a move that could put Silvio Berlusconi back in the premier’s seat, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigned Wednesday after Italy’s center-left government lost a crucial vote, triggering a crisis whose possible outcomes include new elections.

Prodi’s nine-month-old government lost parliamentary support over its hotly contested mission to Afghanistan, for which it received 158 votes instead of the 160 it needed in the Senate for approval.

The Berlusconi-led conservative opposition immediately called for the government to resign, and Prodi did so.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano cut short a visit to Bologna to hold an emergency meeting with Prodi. Napolitano will consult politicians today and could stop short of calling an election and ask for a parliamentary confidence vote in Prodi; he could also ask another leader to form a governing coalition.

“All polls give us a lead of between 8% and 15%,” Berlusconi boasted in an interview Wednesday with newspaper Il Mattino in which the media mogul and former premier said he was gearing up for a new national vote — despite the fact that he has been suffering heart problems in the last several months.

“I am confident we will be back in government to resume and complete the work that was interrupted,” Berlusconi said.

Berlusconi controls Mediaset, Italy’s top commercial broadcaster. He ended his five-year stint at the head of the country’s most durable postwar government last April, when he lost elections by a very narrow margin.

The mogul-cum-politico had been predicting for months that Prodi’s government would collapse because of the radical leftists in the coalition. Prodi took office May 17.

(Wire services contributed to this report.)

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