Two Italian Policemen Shot Outside Prime Minister Office

Two Italian police officers were shot outside the prime minister’s office in Rome today by a lone gunman while the country’s new premier, Enrico Letta, was being sworn in nearby, police said.

A man wearing a jacket and tie pulled out a gun on fired at the police officers guarding Palazzo Chigi and then started shouting “Shoot me! Shoot me,” witnesses told SKY TG24 television. The suspect was subdued by police and taken into custody without a shot being fired by the officers, Rome Mayor Giovanni Alemanno said.

The gunman, identified as Luigi Preiti from the southern region of Calabria, doesn’t have a criminal record, news agency Ansa reported. The 49-year-old suspect wasn unemployed and apparently wanted to commit suicide after he fired six shots at the officers, Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said in a statement. “This tragic criminal gesture appears to be an isolated incident.” Still, security will be increased for “sensitive targets” in the country, Alfano said.

Preiti told investigators that he wanted to shoot politicians on an important day. His brother told journalists that Preiti showed little interest in politics and the family had no idea what prompted the attack.

One of the officers, Giuseppe Giangrande, was shot in the neck and suffered possible damage to his spinal column, doctors at the Umberto I hospital in Rome said at a press conference. The second policeman was shot in the leg.

Generational Shift

Letta, 46, went to Palazzo Chigi after the shooting and held his first Cabinet meeting there. He was sworn in at the Quirinale presidential palace earlier today after forging an alliance with Silvio Berlusconi that ended a two-month stalemate and signaled a generational shift in the country’s politics.

Letta, the third-youngest Italian premier since World War II, will lead a 21-member Cabinet. He named a record seven women to his Cabinet, including former European Union commissioner Emma Bonino as foreign minister. He also appointed Bank of Italy veteran Fabrizio Saccomanni as finance minister.

“Letta’s choice of ministers shows his ability as mediator,” said Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffe, professor of business strategy at Milan’s Bocconi University. “The ministers are all moderate and no extremists are included.”

Parliament may schedule a vote of confidence on Letta’s administration as early as tomorrow.

Obama Statement

U.S. President Barack Obama “looks forward to working closely with Prime Minister Letta and President Napolitano as our two countries jointly seek to promote trade, jobs, and growth on both sides of the Atlantic and tackle today’s complex security challenges,” according to a White House statement today.

The new prime minister has sealed an alliance with former premier Berlusconi, resurrecting the coalition that stood behind Letta’s predecessor, Mario Monti. While the deal gives Letta a majority in parliament, he must manage the competing agendas of his Democratic Party and forces loyal to Berlusconi to find common ground on policy.

Berlusconi, a three-time premier, told Canale 5 television yesterday that Letta had agreed to his demand to eliminate a property tax on first homes and to reimburse last year’s payment. The pledge was central to Berlusconi’s campaign for the February elections and helped him narrow the Democratic Party’s lead before the vote and deny it a majority of seats in the Senate.

Political Stalemate

The Democrats won a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, but without the Senate couldn’t build a government on their own. The stalemate led to the resignation of Pier Luigi Bersani, who led them into the election. President Giorgio Napolitano asked Letta to try to build a government on April 24 and the premier was forced into a coalition with Berlusconi.

Alfano, who also is general secretary of Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party, was named deputy prime minister and placed at the head of the Interior Ministry. Anna Maria Cancellieri, interior minister under Monti, will serve as justice minister. European Affairs Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi will remain in the same role for Letta and the Defense Ministry goes to Mario Mauro, an ex-Berlusconi ally and member of Monti’s Civic Choice party.

Letta’s swearing-in ends a political stalemate caused by inconclusive elections in February that left the country with a hung Parliament. He is starting his tenure with two-year government bond yields near a record low and the Italian economy, the European Union’s third-largest, in its longest recession for at least 20 years.

Fiscal Austerity

Tax-cut plans enjoy widespread support in parliament, and members of the governing coalition have repudiated the fiscal austerity they imposed under Monti. The two-year note closed at 1.29 percent in the last trading session on April 26, down from 1.67 percent when voters went to the polls.

Letta’s party favors progressive taxation and counted on the support of labor unions at the polls. The party identifies itself as center-left and brings together ex-Christian Democrats including Letta and former communists like Bersani. People of Liberty is calling for cuts to public spending and appeals to entrepreneurs and professionals.

Letta will be pushed to tackle a new election law -- to reduce the probability of future stalemates -- as well as justice reform and a labor-market update that economists have said is needed to boost productivity.

Property Tax

The property tax, known as IMU, may be the first item on Letta’s agenda. IMU, created by Monti to help cut the deficit, became a symbol to Italians frustrated by budget rigor.

The main challenge for Letta, a former industry and European affairs minister, will be keeping Berlusconi committed and his own party intact. The Democratic Party, which fields the biggest force in parliament, nearly fractured during the post-election impasse after then-leader Bersani refused to bargain with Berlusconi and failed to gain a legislative majority.

“Berlusconi has a compact group behind him and Letta doesn’t,” said Federigo Argentieri, professor at John Cabot University in Rome. “He risks becoming a hostage of Berlusconi’s group and I think in that case he would resign.”

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