UPDATED: Italy’s president summons Meloni, expected to give her mandate to form new govt

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ROME, Oct 21 (Reuters) – Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella has summoned rightist leader Giorgia Meloni for talks later on Friday – a move widely expected to lead to her being given a mandate to form a new government.

Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party won a Sept. 25 general election as part of a coalition including Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s League, is expected at the Quirinale palace at 1430 GMT, Mattarella’s office said in a statement.

Earlier, Meloni told President Sergio Mattarella on Friday that she was ready to become prime minister and could swiftly form a new government despite tumult within her right-wing coalition.

Meloni, head of the nationalist Brothers of Italy party, met the president alongside her main allies — Matteo Salvini, who leads the far-right League, and Silvio Berlusconi, founder of the conservative Forza Italia party.

“We are ready to form a government as quickly as possible,” Meloni told reporters after the unusually short meeting, which lasted barely 15 minutes.

Meloni set to become Italy’s first woman PM

Mattarella is expected to call her back to his office later in the day to formally ask her to become prime minister and the new cabinet is likely to be sworn in over the weekend.

The conservative bloc won a commanding parliamentary majority at a Sept. 25 general election, with Meloni’s party taking the most votes, putting her in pole position to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

The new administration faces an array of daunting challenges, including a looming recession in the eurozone’s third largest economy, rising energy bills and the Ukraine war.

The task of putting together the new team has proved much more turbulent than expected, drawing comparison with the political turmoil in Britain, with Berlusconi repeatedly undermining Meloni’s authority since the election.

In a note he left in public view in parliament last week, the 86-year-old Berlusconi wrote that he found Meloni “overbearing… domineering… arrogant… offensive”.

The veteran former prime minister set off a fresh firestorm this week when he told his lawmakers that he blamed Ukraine for the war with Russia and revealed that he had exchanged gifts and “sweet letters” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Leader of ‘Brothers of Italy’ (Fratelli d’Italia) Giorgia Meloni (L) and League leader Matteo Salvini (R) leave after a meeting with Italian president for the first round of formal political consultations for new government at the Quirinale Palace in Rome, Italy, 21 October 2022. EPA-EFE/ETTORE FERRARI

Meloni subsequently issued a statement saying her administration would be firmly pro-NATO and pro-European. “Anyone who does not agree with this cornerstone cannot be part of the government,” she said.

Berlusconi’s right-hand man in Forza Italia, Antonio Tajani, is expected to be the next foreign minister. He flew to Brussels on Thursday for talks with EU allies and assured them his party condemned Russia’s “unacceptable” invasion of Ukraine.

The crucial economy ministry post is expected to go to Giancarlo Giorgetti, the deputy head of the League and industry minister in the outgoing unity government headed by former central bank chief Mario Draghi.

Meloni will make her first set-piece speech to parliament next week and must win votes of confidence in both chambers before formally assuming full powers.

(Reporting by Crispian BalmerEditing by Keith Weir)

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