updated 4/23/2005 10:19:25 AM ET 2005-04-23T14:19:25

Conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi formed a new government Saturday and will present his choice of Cabinet ministers to Italy’s legislators for approval in the hopes of avoiding new elections.

Berlusconi received the mandate to govern at a meeting Friday with President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, just two days after quitting amid a power struggle with his coalition allies.

With his reconstituted government — a technique used by past Italian premiers to strengthen faltering coalitions — Berlusconi aims to improve his sagging popularity and remain in power until the next election, scheduled for mid-2006.

Berlusconi said he would present his list of ministers to the speakers of both houses of parliament, where he will face a confirmation vote next week.

If Berlusconi succeeds, he will avoid early elections that his center-right coalition could expect to lose. With Italians concerned about the economy and largely opposed to Italy’s involvement in Iraq, polls have suggested that the center-left bloc would win if elections were held now.

Political crisis
The premier was forced to resign after a top ally threatened to withdraw its ministers from the government, a move that would have brought it down. A smaller coalition party pulled out last week.

The political crisis emerged after Berlusconi’s conservative coalition suffered an embarrassing defeat in regional elections this month, losing 12 of 14 regions at stake. Voters punished the premier because of their discontent with the sluggish economy and the nation’s participation in the Iraq war.

Italy’s economy grew by 1.2 percent last year, compared with an average of 2 percent in the 12 nations using the euro currency.

In the war, Berlusconi sent 3,000 troops to Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion. Pressure to pull out the troops mounted after U.S. forces in Baghdad mistakenly killed an Italian intelligence agent who was escorting a released hostage March 4.

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