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By: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ROME – Italy’s Senate approved economic reforms demanded by the European Union on Friday, the first step in paving the way for Premier Silvio Berlusconi to resign as early as this weekend and a transitional government to be formed.
The 156-12 vote took place after respected economist Mario Monti – widely expected to become the interim prime minister – was welcomed with sustained applause in the Senate chamber, where he was officially designated senator for life.
Italy’s eagerly awaited political transition is expected to happen Saturday, when the lower chamber of parliament also votes on the reforms. It will follow a similar power shift in Greece, where a technocratic government this week took over under the leadership of former banker Lucas Papademos.
The hope is that politically neutral governments will have the strength to push through deeply unpopular and painful economic reforms needed to reduce the two countries’ massive debt loads.
After weeks of political deadlock in Rome and Athens, investors were this week fearing the worst – a Greek-style crisis in Italy that would tear apart the 17-nation euro currency union and shake the global economy.
Market sentiment improved on Friday, with the benchmark 10-year borrowing rate down to 6.48 percent – a sharp retreat from the dangerous levels above 7 percent hit earlier this week.
However, the measures will not be enough to revive long-dormant economic growth and are only one step in a long series of tough decisions Italy will have to make.