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Fallout Continues from Divisive Italian Election

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Two days after Italians voted in parliamentary elections, an opposition leader is preparing to take over. At the same time, the incumbent Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is refusing to concede defeat. His demand for a recount is just one of the big news stories in Italy right now. So, we've reached NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome. And Sylvia, will there be a recount?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:

Well, according to Italian law, there is always a partial recount. It involves ballots that are questionable and all vote tallies drawn up by election officials in the 60,000 polling stations. It seems this could take a few days, while a check a questionable overseas ballots will be completed after Easter.

Berlusconi insists that for now, nobody can say that they've won, and that his Center Right coalition garnered a majority of votes. But yesterday, he also suddenly changed tone and made an overture to Romano Prodi, the Opposition, the man who says he's won, suggesting the left and the right join forces, as in Germany, in grand coalition.

INSKEEP: Okay. Well, how did Prodi respond to that idea?

POGGIOLI: Well, he rejected it, saying he'll stick to the same coalition he campaigned with. A disparate group of Centrist Catholics, Social Democrats, Greens, Communists, and Liberals, and said he and his allies will govern. And this wasn't surprising. The campaign had been vicious. Berlusconi had attacked the opposition as a bunch of communists and a danger to democracy.

And the two coalition programs are virtually unreconcilable. In any case, it looks there will be a long stalemate, because the official mandate to former government is given by the head of state, and that post is up for reelection by the new parliament. So, Italy may not have a new government for another month or two.

INSKEEP: So that story is still unsettled. We're talking to NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome. And Sylvia, let me ask you about something else here. Bernardo Provenzano - am I saying his name correctly? The mafia boss of bosses has been arrested?

POGGIOLI: That's perfect the way you said it. Well, you know, police had been staking out a farmhouse in the hills near Provenzano's hometown of Corleone, and the operation sounds like a Godfather movie script. Hidden cameras had been planted in wheat fields. Police had been keeping Provenzano's close family under surveillance, and they tracked a bundle of laundry as it was relayed by different couriers to the farmhouse.

Investigators said that Tuesday morning, police on a stakeout saw a hand come out from a door to take the bundle, and they decided to move in. They found Provenzano living in two ramshackle rooms. A pot of chicory was boiling on the stove, and his trusted typewriter was sitting on a desk. He was known never to use phones that could track him down. So for 43 years, Provenzano dispatched orders to his henchmen on little typed written notes. He did not resist arrest, but he told the agents you can't imagine the damage that you are doing.

INSKEEP: It's amazing that people did know what he looked like. He hadn't been photographed in decades, but they had this updated sketch of him. I'm looking at a wanted poster that's on the web, and it looks about like his photograph. This guy must have never gone out for a cup of coffee or anything?

POGGIOLI: Actually, they say he looked a little - he was actually a little fatter. They had made him look slimmer through the computer makeup. But, you know, for many years, Provenzano on the run convinced many Italians that the state was an unable or unwilling to eradicate the mafia. The top anti-mafia prosecutor had said that an entire world of professionals and businessmen and politicians had protected Provenzano during his years as a fugitive.

His arrest may mean the end of the Corleone era, during which a very rural, very brutal mafia prevailed through a vicious mob war that claimed hundreds of lives. So the new government, though, will have now to tackle probably the emergence of a more modern, more technocratic and perhaps even more elusive kind of mafia.

INSKEEP: Okay. Sylvia, thanks very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.