Italy at impasse after vote

Updated 27 February 2013
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Italy at impasse after vote

ROME: Italy was at an impasse yesterday after an election seen as crucial for the euro zone failed to produce a clear winner and provided a shock debut for a populist anti-austerity party, rattling world markets and setting off alarm bells across Europe.
The Milan stock market plunged and Italy’s borrowing rates jumped after center-left Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani scraped a razor-thin victory in the lower house of Parliament but the Senate remained up for grabs.
Stock markets in Europe, Asia and the United States also fell on fears of instability in the euro zone’s third biggest economy.
A majority in both chambers of Parliament is required to form a government, leaving Italy in a state of limbo with a hung Parliament that is unprecedented in its post-war history.
“It is clear to everyone that this is a very delicate situation for the country,” Bersani said late Monday.
European capitals, which fear the deadlock could plunge Italy back into the debt crisis storm, sounded alarm.
“It’s a leap into the unknown, which bodes poorly both for Italy and the rest of Europe,” said Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo.
Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing forces came a close second, winning 29.18 percent of the vote to 29.54 percent for Bersani in the lower house.
A third force — the populist, anti-government Five Star Movement (M5S) of former comic Beppe Grillo — won big, reaping a resounding protest vote from an electorate fed up with austerity policies and a grinding recession to score 25.5 percent in the lower house.
European powerhouse Germany, as well as France, also reacted nervously, with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle calling for a new government to be formed “as quickly as possible.”
“The politicians in Rome know that Italy still needs a policy of reform, a policy of (budgetary) consolidation,” he said.
“The country which most needs stability will not have a government that lasts for more than a few months,” said James Walston, a professor of international relations at the American University in Rome.
The big loser was outgoing prime minister Mario Monti, who was drafted to run a technocratic government in the debt-strapped country after Berlusconi was ousted at the height of the financial crisis in 2011.
In contrast to Grillo’s shock success, Monti won just 10.56 percent in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. While he won praise in Europe, he was increasingly criticized at home for his austerity measures.
“The real Italy has expressed all its malaise and in this vote can be heard the voices and the stories of those who cannot find work, who cannot retire... those who think they have no future and flee abroad,” wrote the daily La Stampa.
Unemployment rose to a record high of 11.2 percent in December, with joblessness among those aged 15-24 standing at 36.6 percent.
A victor’s bonus will give the left a handy majority in the 630-seat lower house, the Chamber of Deputies.
But in the 315-seat Senate, neither left nor right has mustered a majority, with Berlusconi’s People of Freedom winning 116 seats and Bersani’s Democratic Party winning 113.
“Boom for Grillo, Italy Ungovernable,” screamed the headline in the left-leaning La Repubblica daily.
The elections spelled a “victory for a euro-skeptic Italy in the face of the policy of economic rigor,” said an editorial in Italy’s leading daily Corriere della Sera.
“This is fantastic! We will be an extraordinary force!” Grillo said Monday, warning mainstream politicians they would “only last a few more months.” “We’ll have 110 people in Parliament and we’ll be millions outside,” said the campaigner, who has packed city squares across Italy with his rallies.
Some Democratic Party officials suggested fresh elections may have to be held within a few months after a reform of Italy’s complex electoral laws. Others said some form of agreement could be found with Grillo’s anti-austerity M5S.
Political analysts suggested a possible return to the grand coalition agreement between right and left seen under Monti over the past 18 months — or even dissolving the Senate alone to hold fresh elections for only one chamber of Parliament.


Indonesia investigates reports top Daesh commander killed

Updated 17 min 21 sec ago
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Indonesia investigates reports top Daesh commander killed

  • Online messages from Daesh propagandists say Bahrumsyah, an Indonesian national, died after US air strikes hit Hajjin, north of the Syrian city of Abu Kamal
  • His death, if confirmed, would be a blow to pro-Daesh forces in Southeast Asia

JAKARTA/MANILA: Indonesia is investigating reports from Daesh supporters that the most senior Southeast Asian commander of the militant group was killed by US air strikes in eastern Syria last week, counter-terrorism officials said.
Online messages from Daesh propagandists viewed by Reuters say Bahrumsyah, an Indonesian national, died after US air strikes hit Hajjin, north of the Syrian city of Abu Kamal, last Tuesday.
A spokesman for Indonesia’s foreign ministry, Arrmanatha Nasir, said the embassy in Syria had made enquiries but had yet to confirm Bahrumsyah’s death.
Two senior Indonesian counter-terrorism officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were taking the online reports seriously.
“We are in the process of investigating,” said one senior official with Indonesia’s counter-terrorism agency.
If the reports were true, it would become a “motivation to carry out reprisal attacks” in Indonesia, the senior official said.
A Pentagon spokesman, Eric Pahon, said US aircraft were bombing the “general area” in eastern Syria on the day Bahrumsyah is believed to have died but was unable to confirm his death.
As well as leading Katibah Nusantara, an armed unit comprising more than 100 Southeast Asians, Bahrumsyah also organized funding for the Islamist rebels who captured part of the southern Philippines city of Marawi in a bloody siege last year, analysts and officials say.
A message purportedly from the Daesh figure Abu Nuh reviewed by Reuters said Bahrumsyah had been attending a meeting of leaders when he was killed. An Daesh headquarters and a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device factory were destroyed in the attack, the message said.
Another post eulogized the Indonesian, receiving sympathetic comments and crying emojis.
There were reports last year of Bahrumsyah’s death, but analyst Sidney Jones from the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict said the latest had a “much higher degree of credibility”.
“As far as we know, he was the highest ranking Indonesian to fight with ISIS. The fact that he commanded a fighting unit that was recognized by ISIS underscores his importance,” said Jones, using an alternative acronym for Daesh.
His death, if confirmed, would be a blow to pro-Daesh forces in Southeast Asia, where fears of hardened fighters returning from Syria as the militants’ self-declared caliphate crumbles has authorities on alert.
More than 600 Indonesians, including at least 166 women and children, traveled to Syria to join Daesh, according to data from Indonesia’s counter-terrorism agency reviewed by Reuters.
A further 482 Indonesians were deported by foreign governments trying to join Daesh.
“I don’t expect a flood of people to come back (to Indonesia), although there will be some people trying,” Jones said.