Berlusconi quits, Monti said to be next premier

Berlusconi quits, Monti said to be next premier

A chorus of Handel's "Alleluia," performed by a few dozen singers and classical musicians, rang out in front of the president's palace as thousands of Italians poured into downtown Rome to rejoice at the end of Berlusconi's scandal-marred reign.

Hecklers shouted "Buffoon, Buffoon!" as Berlusconi's motorcade entered and exited the presidential palace, where he tendered his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano yesterday, the palace said in a statement.

Respected former European commissioner Mario Monti remained the top choice to try to steer the country out of its debt woes as the head of a transitional government, but Berlusconi's allies remained split over whether to support him.

Their opposition wasn't expected to scuttle Napolitano's plans to ask Monti to try to form an interim government as early as today, but it could make Monti's job more difficult.

Napolitano will hold consultations today morning with all Italy's political forces. The back-to-back, 10-minute meetings he has scheduled indicated the talks wouldn't drag on and that Monti would be nominated by the end of the day. Late yesterday, Berlusconi's party said it would support Monti, albeit with conditions.

Berlusconi's resignation was set in motion after the Chamber of Deputies, with a vote yesterday of 380-26 with two abstentions, approved economic reforms which include increasing the retirement age starting in 2026 but do nothing to open up Italy's inflexible labour market.

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