Super Mario

New Italian premier wins overwhelming vote of confidence

Italy's new prime minister overwhelmingly won a Senate vote of confidence Thursday evening, hours after presenting his proposal for leading the country out of financial crisis.

Mario Monti, who took office Wednesday, said the main points of his program are balancing the budget, promoting growth, and cutting down on social disparities.

He also said overhauling Italy's pension system, fighting tax evasion and cracking down on organized crime will be key steps.

Italy's Senate voted 281 to 25 in support of the fledgling government.

"What we are trying to accomplish, my dear senators, and which I ask you to support, is extremely difficult. Otherwise I imagine I wouldn't be here today," Monti told lawmakers in remarks that were also broadcast on Italian television. "The margins for success are so reduced after years of battling in national politics. If we know how to ... start a constructive dialogue, we will have the opportunity to save the country and re-establish credibility in its institutions."

Monti also said that his government is studying some measures to increase revenue, including adjusting real estate and wealth taxes.

"We need to confront a crisis," he said, noting that Italy's real estate tax is significantly lower than other countries.

As politicians debated overhauling parts of Italy's financial system, hundreds of students demonstrated in Rome and Milan, with protesters saying they don't want to pay for debt problems they didn't cause.

The new prime minister, who replaces the flamboyant Silvio Berlusconi, has said he will also serve as finance minister until he nominates someone else for the post.

Monti faces an arduous task. Italy has one of the highest national debts in Europe at €1.9 trillion (nearly $2.6 trillion) -- about 120% of GDP -- and has seen low growth in recent years.

The 68-year-old former European Union commissioner won the backing of Berlusconi's political party and Italy's largest left-wing party on Tuesday.

He suggested Monday that his government might not last much longer than a year, until scheduled elections in early 2013. And at any time, Parliament could dissolve his government "because of lack of trust," he said.

It is "obvious" that the task at hand is an emergency and that to achieve economic growth and social equity "should be the priorities," Monti said.

Berlusconi resigned Saturday night, prompting cheers, flag-waving and singing in celebrations outside his office and ending an era in Italian politics. After 18 years in and out of the prime minister's office, he was brought down by difficulties in pushing through budget cuts.

The former prime minister is expected to give his first speech as a lawmaker in the lower house of Parliament on Friday, according to Italian media reports.

His People of Freedom party remains the strongest force in Parliament, and Berlusconi has said he plans to remain active in it.

Berlusconi is the second prime minister to resign this month over the debt crisis sweeping across Europe. Last week, Greece's George Papandreou was replaced by Lucas Papademos, a former European Central Bank official.

(Published by CNN - November 17, 2011)

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