Italy foreign minister tapped to be premier, form next govt

ROME (AP) — Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni was tapped Sunday to form a new, Democrat-led government and end a political crisis so the country can quickly tackle pressing problems, which include troubled banks, an economy resisting growth and an electoral reform aimed at finally making the nation more governable.

“I’m aware of the urgency to give Italy a government in the fullness of its powers, to reassure the citizens and to face with utmost commitment and determination international, economic and social priorities,” the 62-year-old Gentiloni said.

If he succeeds in cobbling together a Cabinet with sufficient support in Parliament, Gentiloni will replace fellow Democrat Matteo Renzi in the premiership. Renzi has been acting in a caretaker role as premier since he quit on Dec. 7 after his nearly three-year-old government suffered a stinging defeat in a referendum on reforms he had staked his job on.

Gentiloni didn’t say when he would report back to President Sergio Mattarella on progress in cobbling together a Cabinet, including his own replacement as foreign minister. If he succeeds, the government will be sworn in, and then Gentiloni, as premier, would ask Parliament for the required confidence vote. Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan is widely expected to stay on, especially in the middle of the banking crisis.

If no snags develop, Gentiloni could be sworn in early this week.

“We’re getting down to work,” Renzi told reporters.

The populist 5-Star Movement and other opposition forces have been clamoring for an early election. But Mattarella, in weighing who should replace Renzi, pointed out the center-left government still commands a majority in Parliament.

After Mattarella gave the nod to Gentiloni at the Quirinal presidential palace, opposition groups, including the populist 5-Star Movement, stepped up demands for elections soon, since Italians resoundingly rejected Renzi’s reform agenda in the Dec. 4 ballot referendum.

“The people feel as if they’ve been taken for a ride, and want to vote who will decide their lives,” said a 5-Star lawmaker, Laura Castelli in a Facebook post that promoted the Movement’s “elections immediately” hashtag.

Renzi became Italy’s youngest-ever premier in February 2014 when he was 39. He still leads the Democratic Party, although is expected to face internal party challenges should he bid for a return to the premiership when elections are eventually scheduled.

During his party leadership, Renzi, who leans toward the political center, saw defections, especially from Democrats with a past in the former Communist Party.

One defector, Stefano Fassina, of the small Democratic Left party, labeled the next government a “Renzi-encore” and pushed for “elections as soon as possible.”

Mattarella has urged the next government to act on several urgent priorities. Those include a banking crisis stemming from badly performing loans amid an economy which resisted growing for several years, despite labor reforms and tax breaks during the Renzi administration.

Gentiloni also noted the pressing need for ambitious construction for several towns destroyed in recent months by earthquakes in central Italy. The quake-struck area was rattled anew Sunday with a 4.3 quake. Reconstruction following quakes in decades past has been ripe for corruption.

The premier-designate called receiving the task to govern “a high honor,” adding “I’ll try to carry out the task with dignity and responsibility.”

As foreign minister, Gentiloni lobbied for an international support to help end years of violence and fighting in Libya. The North Africa nation’s lawless coast has turned into a vast launching pad for lucrative people smuggling, which sends hundreds of thousands of migrants out in unseaworthy boats toward Italian shores.

Gentiloni also spearheaded Italy’s demands that the Egyptian government determine and bring to justice who tortured and killed a young Italian researcher in Cairo this year.


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