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Italy's president asks center-left lawmaker to form government

By Hada Messia and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 9:24 AM EDT, Wed April 24, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Enrico Letta highlights need to tackle unemployment, political reform in Italy
  • President Giorgio Napolitano asks the center-left politician to form a government
  • Letta, of the Democratic Party, says he will consult with political parties
  • Italy has been locked in a stalemate since inconclusive elections in February

Rome (CNN) -- Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has asked center-left politician Enrico Letta to form a new government, the president's spokesman said Wednesday, raising hopes of an end to the country's political impasse.

Speaking after their meeting, Letta told reporters he would consult with parties Thursday and then would return to the presidential palace to "fully accept" the mandate.

The step comes four days after Napolitano, 87, was re-elected by Italy's Parliament on Saturday to an unprecedented second term.

Italy has been locked in a political stalemate since February's general election left a three-way split between the right, the left and a wild-card party.

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A delegation led by Letta, a 46-year-old former deputy prime minister who belongs to the center-left Democratic Party, met with Napolitano on Tuesday.

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Letta said that he was surprised to receive the call from Napolitano on Wednesday morning but that he accepted the challenge "with great commitment."

"We are going through a very difficult time," he said.

Letta said the most important step was to tackle unemployment, especially among young people -- a problem that is pushing many young Italians to leave the country.

The second most pressing issue facing Italy is the need for political reform, he said.

READ MORE: Mired in financial troubles, Italian couple commits suicide

Constitutional changes are needed to reduce the number of parliamentarians and fix an electoral system that has kept the country locked in a political stalemate it can't afford, he said.

"We need to do this together with the largest participation possible," said Letta.

He also said the policy of austerity in the European Union needs to change.

Napolitano said he was "satisfied" because the road to forming the new government is finally open. The only way this can happen is through a "large coalition" that can ensure a majority in both houses of Parliament, he said.

Letta is very young for a prime minister by Italian standards but is very experienced, he added.

The former leader of the Democratic Party, Pier Luigi Bersani, tried to form a government last month but failed. He resigned after the re-election of Napolitano.

No one has taken over the leadership of the party, the dominant member of a leftist coalition.

CNN's Hada Messia reported from Rome and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London.

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