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Italy's Prodi scores victory with liberalization measures, refinancing of Afghan mission, analysts say

Italy's Prodi scores victory with liberalization measures, refinancing of Afghan mission, analysts say

Premier Romano Prodi scored a victory as his Cabinet approved controversial measures to liberalize Italy's economy and refinance the country's mission to Afghanistan, analysts said Friday, but opposition to the plans persisted.
Gas stations announced 14 days of strikes _ the first on Feb. 7-8 _ to protest a planned liberalization, and other groups affected by the reforms were likely to follow.
Meanwhile, far leftists in the government _ whose ministers walked out during the vote on the Afghan mission at the Cabinet meeting _ were demanding a change of strategy.
Franco Giordano, a Communist leader, says he wants the Afghan mission to focus on civilian aid and the government to engage in diplomatic rather than military action.
However, analysts said the Cabinet meeting that ended late Thursday after seven hours of discussion marked a victory for Prodi, who has seen his approval rating drop in recent months amid a contested 2007 budget and coalition bickering over key policies.
"Prodi is certainly stronger than he was last week," James Walston, political science professor at the American University in Rome, said Friday.
"He must be very relieved because the Afghan measure was really a problem and was controversial," he added. "On the liberalization side, it is a step forward. He can't do anything too dramatic because the left wing wouldn't follow."
"Prodi needed a tonic, and the program for liberalization ... represents the best tonic," said the financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore.
The package approved Thursday includes measures aimed at making it easier for entrepreneurs to open businesses ranging from beauty parlors to gas stations, and for consumers to buy gasoline, newspapers and cigarettes. The measures also include a ban on phone companies charging a fee to add credit to cell phones.
The package is part of the government's strategy to inject competition into Italy's rigid economy and boost growth _ a main goal of Prodi's premiership. But the plan is already being met with fierce resistance.
Gas stations were the quickest to react, planning protests that are likely to paralyze Italy's road traffic as the three associations that announced the strike gather almost all Italian gas stations.
A previous liberalization package spurred protests by taxi drivers that paralyzed Rome last summer as they sought to scuttle a plan to auction off cab licenses. Pharmacists went on strike over plans to allow the sale of nonprescription drugs in supermarkets.
Walston predicted the government would engage in negotiations with the groups and possibly water down the measures, as was the case for some in the previous round.
The Afghanistan decree allowed Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema to attend a NATO summit in Brussels Friday with a renewed commitment by his government. Italy has 1,800 troops in Afghanistan.
The measure also allocates money for reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.
But Communists and hard-line Greens say they are unhappy about the current decree and want amendments when lawmakers vote on it. Prodi's critics have been further angered by his approval of a U.S. request to expand a military base in the northern Italian city of Vicenza.


Updated : 2021-07-31 07:55 GMT+08:00