Rome: Silvio Berlusconi resigned on Saturday to make way for an emergency government Italians hope will save them from financial ruin as thousands of jeering protesters shouted "clown, clown" and toasted the end of a scandal-plagued era.
Berlusconi, who failed to secure a majority in a crucial vote on
Tuesday, stepped down as prime minister after parliament passed a package of
measures demanded by European partners to restore market confidence in Italy's
strained public finances.
Former European Commissioner Mario Monti is
expected to be given the task of trying to form a new administration to face a
widening financial crisis which has sent Italy's borrowing costs to unmanageable
More than a thousand demonstrators waving banners mocking
Berlusconi flocked to the president's residence at the Quirinale Palace as the
motorcade carrying the billionaire media entrepreneur, who has been Italy's
longest serving prime minister, entered.
The crowd grew so unruly that
Berlusconi was forced to leave secretly via a side entrance and return to his
Cheers broke out when they heard that Berlusconi had
resigned and the square broke out into a party atmosphere. People sang, danced
and some broke open bottles of champagne.
An orchestra near the palace
played the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. "We are here to rejoice,"
Demonstrators chanting "resign, resign, resign" also gathered
outside the prime minister's office and parliament, heckling ministers as they
walked between the two buildings.
A small group of pro-Berlusconi
demonstrators gathered outside his residence but were hugely outnumbered by
After the resignation, hundreds shouting "Jail, Jail,
Jail,"moved from the presidential palace to Berlusconi's residence to continue
the noisy celebrations below his windows.
"This is something that deeply saddens me," the Italian news agency Ansa
quoted Berlusconi as telling aides.
President Giorgio Napolitano will
begin consultations with political leaders at 5:00 a.m. EST on Sunday morning.
He was expected to ask Monti for form a government on Sunday night.
Italy, the euro zone's third largest economy, came close to disaster
this week when yields on 10-year bonds soared over 7.6 percent, the kind of
level which forced Ireland, Portugal and Greece to seek international bailouts.
Berlusconi, who failed to secure a majority in a vote on Tuesday,
promised to resign once parliament passed the package of economic reforms
demanded by European partners to restore confidence in Italy's battered public
Monti, named by Napolitano as a Senator for Life on Wednesday, is
expected to appoint a relatively small cabinet of technocrat specialists to
steer Italy through the crisis.
With the next election not due until
2013, a technocrat government could have about 18 months to pass painful
economic reforms but will need to secure the backing of a majority in parliament
and could fall before then.
With a public debt of more than 120 percent of
gross domestic product and more than a decade of anemic economic growth behind
it, Italy is at the heart of the euro zone debt crisis and would be too big for
the bloc to bail out.
Financial markets have backed a Monti government and
as prospects of Berlusconi going became firmer last week, yields dropped below
the critical 7 percent level, although they remain close.
"We don't yet have a new government in Italy and we have to wait, but I'm
sure if Mario Monti will be appointed he will do whatever is necessary in order
to restore the confidence of the financial markets in Italy," Alessandro
Profumo, former head of Unicredit, Italy's largest bank, said.
Berlusconi, fighting an array of scandals and facing
trials on charges ranging from tax fraud to paying for sex with an under-aged
prostitute, had been under pressure to resign for weeks as the market crisis
threatened to spin out of control.
International leaders including U.S.
President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the head of the
International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde have expressed hopes a new
government can be in place quickly.
Talks with Italian political parties are
expected to begin on Sunday with hopes that a new government can be in place in
time for the opening of financial markets on Monday.
However, even as
preparations for a transition begin, signs of opposition have appeared, with
Berlusconi's PDL party split between factions ready to accept a Monti government
and others deeply opposed.
Berlusconi had a working lunch with Monti before
the vote, suggesting the outgoing government will not try to block a quick
handover, but the attitude of the center-right as a whole remains unclear.
The PDL's main coalition ally, the regional pro-devolution Northern League,
has declared it will go into opposition, underlining the risk that the new
government will lack the broad parliamentary support it will need to pass deep
"The convulsions in the center-right at the prospect of a
government led by Mario Monti signal a danger: that a divided coalition may be
tempted to unload its divisions on the country," the daily Corriere della Sera
The center-left Democratic party and smaller centrist parties have
pledged support to Monti. Italy's main business and banking associations and
some of the moderate trade unions have also called for a government of national
Posted by Sinlung
By John Cook
For the past week, American's finest news institutions—those self-identified defenders of journalistic propriety against the teeming online hordes—have been tripping over themselves to publish vague, contextless, detail-free, anonymous accusations about the sex life of presidential candidate. Hey, that's our job!
There's nothing particularly wrong with the press frenzy surrounding the sexual harassment charges against Herman Cain. The Politico story that launched things on Sunday was maddeningly thin on details, as Jack Shafer and others have pointed out, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a story rattling around in there somewhere. Sexxxy political scandals are a gas, and we love to see Cain, who is an idiot, put through the wringer.
But wringing thus far has yielded precious few details, and the folks doing the wringing are the same people who usually turn up their noses at the sort of half-baked accusations they've been slinging. To date, for instance, all we know of the allegations—allegations—against Cain is that he's accused of inviting a staffer up to his hotel room (she apparently agreed and regretted it, though no one has reported what transpired there), and that he compared a staffer's height to that of his wife.
The rest of it is gauzy, murky stuff. We know the National Restaurant Association, which Cain ran, paid severance to two women, but we don't know why. He made a woman "deeply uncomfortable," the Times says. How? By doing what, precisely? No say. A "third former employee" has come forward to exclusively tell the Associated Press that Cain made "sexually suggestive remarks or gestures" toward her during her time at the NRA. What sexually suggestive remarks or gestures? Again, the AP doesn't say. (It says in general terms that Cain told her that she was attractive, and that he invited her to his room, but not what was sexually suggestive about those remarks.) Pajamas Media tells us that after a night of drinking, "Cain allegedly took [a staffer] by taxi to his apartment, where she spent the night and woke up." What happened before she woke up, and before she fell asleep, we are left to guess.
Such a swirling dust-devil of half-truths and anonymous accusations is the stuff of tabloids and gossip web sites. For places like the Associated Press and the Times, faceless accusations of unspecified misconduct usually represent the starting point for reporting, not the stories themselves. People can be wrong! When Iowa radio host Steve Deace claimed publicly that Cain was "compromised in his private life" because of "inappropriate and awkward" comments he'd made to female radio staffers during a visit to Deace's studio, he declined to elaborate further. But the implication was clear: Cain was grab-assing his way across Iowa, and ABC News, the Washington Post, and others breathlessly passed on the vague claims as "adding to the controversy" surrounding Cain.
It turns out that the "inappropriate" comments weren't sexual, they were at worst run-of-the-mill chauvinism: He'd asked a female reporter for get him some tea. Maybe he thought she was an intern. Or maybe he thinks he can order ladies to prepare his beverages. Either way, it's not quite as bad as the leering, sexually suggestive stuff that was implied.
All of which is fine. Gossip has a place. Right here, for a start. Anonymous accusations have a place. And details or no, the stories surrounding Cain all week were having an impact on the race and were legitimate targets of coverage. But it would be nice if they weren't being covered by the same people who are usually decrying the decline in journalistic standards and posing as the last honorable reporters.
You can be "the gold standard of newsgathering and reporting throughout the world," as the AP self-righteously claims to be as it dismisses bloggers as pajama-clad parasites, or you can report that some lady thinks Cain is a sex creep for unspecified reasons. You can't do both. You can either be a "toilet trained" grown-up, as one noted shithead once put it, or you can accuse a presidential candidate of sexual misdeeds without having one earthly idea as to what those misdeeds, precisely, consisted of. You can't do both.
No newspaper that actually lived up to the ideal of journalistic professionalism that the AP, Times, Post, etc. claim for themselves would publish anonymously sourced stories claiming unspecified sexual misconduct. Hopefully from now on they will drop the sanctimony and just give us the sex.
[Image via Getty]