Shooting as new Italy cabinet sworn in

2013-04-28 15:51
Silvio Berlusconi (Picture: AP)

Silvio Berlusconi (Picture: AP)

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Rome - An unemployed man opened fire on police outside the Italian government headquarters in Rome on Sunday just as the country's new coalition cabinet was being sworn in.

Two policemen and a passer-by were wounded in the shooting which occurred about a kilometre away from the presidential palace where Prime Minister Enrico Letta and his ministers were taking the oath of office.

"The tragic and criminal act this morning was carried out by an unemployed 49-year-old man who showed signs of wanting to commit suicide," new Interior Minister Angelo Alfano told journalists, adding it was an "isolated incident".

Witnesses said a man in a suit and tie shot at the policemen at close range outside the headquarters, off Rome's main shopping street which was packed with tourists at the time.

One policeman was shot in the neck and doctors at the Umberto I hospital said the bullet may have damaged his spinal cord. The other policeman was hit in the leg.

A female passer-by who was lightly injured was also briefly hospitalised, Italian media said.

Police tackled the shooter, Luigi Preiti, to the ground as he attempted to turn the gun on himself.

Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno said it was "the act of a mad, psychologically disturbed man," but Preiti's brother told journalists the shooter was "neither unbalanced nor a terrorist".

The government expressed "its deepest solidarity with the policemen and their families," Alfano said.

Youngsters

The shooting cast a shadow over the swearing in of a team meant to bring fresh hope to a country mired in recession after two months of bitter post-election deadlock watched closely by European partners.

Letta and his 21 ministers took the oath at a ceremony led by President Giorgio Napolitano, who appointed him after the centre-left won February elections but without the majority needed to govern.

The 46-year-old, one of the European Union's youngest prime ministers, is expected to unveil his programme in a parliamentary session on Monday, before the government is put to a confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday.

The deadlock had thwarted efforts to end the worst recession in Italy in 20 years, and Letta has said he wants to move quickly to tackle unemployment - currently 11.6% - and boost growth.

The leftist leader also wants to move away from the austerity imposed by his technocrat predecessor Mario Monti to protect Italy from the eurozone debt crisis - a promise which will be followed closely by investors concerned about Italy's two-trillion-euro debt mountain.

Unveiling his new cabinet on Saturday, Letta said he was proud to have included younger ministers - the average age is 53 - and more women to help renew a tired political scene and rebuild confidence in the discredited political class.

EU president Herman Van Rompuy congratulated Letta and vowed continued support from the bloc for Rome's efforts to stave off bankruptcy.

"I am sure that under his leadership, there will be a strong impetus for political stability in Italy," he said, calling on the country to continue "the necessary reforms for growth and jobs, whilst respecting sound public finances."

Commentators said the exclusion of any big political names was a bid to avoid infighting within the coalition and acknowledge a growing call from the electorate for change.

Cross-party unity

Letta's deputy prime minister and interior minister is Alfano, protege of former premier Silvio Berlusconi and secretary of the centre-right People of Freedom party (PDL).

While the appointment appeared to be aimed at appeasing the right, it angered critics of the scandal-tainted billionaire tycoon, who they claim will have a grasp on the reins of power.

Berlusconi - currently on trial for paying for sex with a 17-year-old prostitute - has seen his popularity ratings rise, and fought to have his right-hand man in pole position.

Fabrizio Saccomanni, a director at Italy's central bank, is finance and economy minister, while Emma Bonino, a former European Commissioner, is foreign minister.

Clinching cross-party unity had proved tricky, with Letta's Democratic Party (PD) loath to work with its hated rival Berlusconi.

The only alternative would have been fresh elections, which neither side would necessarily have won with the majority needed - although recent polls show that Berlusconi might have emerged victorious.

The new government is bound to bring some relief to anxious international observers, after the warning from ratings agency Moody's Friday of an "elevated risk" that the political stalemate would harm investor confidence.

Read more on:    silvio berlusconi  |  italy

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