Italy in limbo as Berlusconi refuses to concede elections
By Honor Mahony
With prime minister Silvio Berlusconi refusing to concede defeat in the Italian elections, one of the EU's biggest member states could be left in a state of political limbo for weeks.
Mr Berlusconi, whose centre-right coalition narrowly lost the weekend's elections, is insisting that some 40,000 ballot papers be re-checked.
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"The election result has to change because there was widespread fraud," said Mr Berlusconi who is arguing that there are problems particularly with votes from Italians living abroad.
"Did you think you were about to be free of me?" he went on to ask, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, Romano Prodi, the centre-left victor according to official counts, has admitted that he might not take power until May.
"The constitutional decision is that probably it will be the new president who will decide to give me the responsibility to govern. So we would have to wait until the second half of May," said Mr Prodi.
The situation has been complicated by the fact that Italy's president, whose duty it is to swear in the new prime minister, is finishing office on 18 May and wants his successor to do the swearing in, reports Italian agency ANSA,
The new president is to be elected by the new parliament, which will convene towards the end of April and make its choice around mid-May.
However, this would mean that the swearing in of the next government would rest on parliament's ability to agree on a presidential candidate.
Italian media point out that the already complicated voting system, which led to 17 ballots for the current president's predecessor, is likely to be exacerbated by the closely balanced parliament.
Who is congratulating and who is waiting?
Brussels and France have been the first to congratulate Mr Prodi since the results were announced on Tuesday, but the US and the UK have remained silent.
French president Jacques Chirac sent his "warm and friendly congratulations" to Mr Prodi, Chirac's office said in a statement.
The president is convinced that "Italy and France would further strengthen their relationship and cooperation in the service of Europe," it continues.
The European Commission has also congratulated Mr Prodi but the UK's Tony Blair, a strong ally of Mr Berlusconi and who holidayed in his villa in Sardinia, has not said anything, notes the Times.
Neither has Washington, which received staunch support from Mr Berlusconi for its decision to invade Iraq. Mr Prodi was against the war.