Rome parties as Berlusconi quits
Rome - Car honking and dancing in the streets greeted the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister in Rome on Saturday, with thousands waving Italian flags and holding up "Bye Bye Silvio" signs.
"Buffoon! Buffoon!" the crowd shouted as the scandal-tainted Berlusconi arrived at the Italian president's residence to officially submit his resignation, with some shouting: "Mafioso!" "Piece of shit!" and "Prison!"
Demonstrators sprayed each other with champagne and hugged in the square outside President Giorgio Napolitano's residence as the news of Berlusconi's official resignation spread, cheering: "Long live Italy!" and "Finally!"
An impromptu chamber orchestra played Handel's Messiah as a choir sang "Hallelujah!" and passed music sheets around so the crowd could join in.
"Ciao! And above all don't come back!" shouted one man.
A cacophony of car horns spread throughout Rome in a stadium-style celebration to mark the exit of a man who named his first political party "Forza Italia" ("Go Italy!") after a football chant.
"It's an incredible moment, we're finally free. Now it's time to party!" said Rossella Saurini, as her seven-year-old son, dressed in Italy's national colours of green, white and red, held sparklers aloft.
The 75-year-old Berlusconi waved to the crowd despite the jeers and shouts of "Buffoon!" after presiding at his last cabinet meeting. Smaller groups of supporters came out to show their backing and chanted: "Silvio! Silvio!"
Not everyone was in a celebratory mood. A group of Berlusconi supporters gathered outside his Palazzo Grazioli home in Rome's historic centre to pay their respects to a leader that "did not deserve to be betrayed by his people."
"We feel like orphans," said Maria Teresa Borghelli, a 54-year-old housewife. "We're living this moment with pain and with anger. Democracy has been trampled. We're sure this is not the end for Berlusconi," she added.
Massimo della Seta, a 25-year-old factory worker, said: "Berlusconi is unique, unforgettable, no-one can follow him."
Tensions rose after a group of neo-fascist activists joined the crowd and began chanting slogans against former European Union commissioner Mario Monti, widely tipped as Berlusconi's replacement.
"Monti is a bastard! Italy is not for sale!" some of them shouted.
There were moments of doubt in the crowd in the minutes leading up to Berlusconi's resignation, with many saying they did not believe he would actually step down.
"We're here to see it with our own eyes," said architect Floriana Calise, 37, adding: "We won't crack the prosecco open until we're sure he's gone."
Francesca Rossi, a 34-year-old teacher, said there was nothing to celebrate.
"We are in limbo. Everything is in question. Our hopes have been shattered. The people have touched rock bottom," she said.
Others called out "Go to Hammamet!" - a hint that Berlusconi should follow the example set by former prime minister Bettino Craxi, who was despised by Italians and lived out his final years in exile in the Tunisian seaside resort of Hammamet.
The vast crowds at the presidential palace hailed what they called a revolution, shouting "Spring!" in reference to the Arab Spring uprisings, while an anti-Berlusconi organisation said: "We're here to celebrate the downfall of a regime!"
As Berlusconi arrived to hand in his resignation, the furious crowds surged forward shouting: "Fuck off you piece of shit!" and "When will you arrest him?", and had to be restrained by police who drew their batons in warning.
As the beleaguered ex-premier left the palace for the last time, the atmosphere changed to one of joy, with students and families hugging each other and taking swigs from numerous bottles of champagne passed through the crowd.
"We're all delighted. We've had enough of this person who always acted in his own interests. Italy is headed for a better future," said 50-year-old Tommaso Romito, muffled up in a white scarf on a cold night in Rome.
Eighteen-year-old Mathilde Cocuzza said: "It's a fantastic moment. I've only ever known Berlusconi's government but this is when it all changes."
"This is going to be like our own little bunga bunga," said Gianfranco Mascia, the leader of a major anti-Berlusconi movement - referring to the erotic dances that have landed the ageing Latin lover in trouble.
Others said they had travelled to Rome: "To say goodbye and good riddance."