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Enrico Letta Appointed Italian Premier-designate

By NICOLE WINFIELD

ROME (AP) â¿¿ Italy's president appointed Enrico Letta as premier-designate Wednesday, asking him to form a coalition government representing Italy's main parties to end two months of political paralysis and put the country back on the path of reform and growth.

Letta, a 46-year-old center-left lawmaker and No. 2 Democratic Party leader, said he accepted the job knowing it's an enormous responsibility and that Italy's political class "has lost all credibility."

President Giorgio Napolitano charged Letta with putting together a coalition government of the Democratic Party and the center-right party of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, the two biggest blocks in Parliament, and said he had received assurances that both would support Letta.

"It is the only possible solution," Napolitano said, calling Letta the figure who could rally "a broad convergence of the political forces that can assure a majority in both houses to the government."

Letta also represents something of a new generation in Italian politics, after the traditional guard has been discredited by scandals, infighting and inertia. In a perhaps scripted but nevertheless significant gesture, Letta drove himself to the presidential palace to accept the job as premier in his own Fiat, with car seats in the back. Normally politicians are driven around town with an accompanying motorcade.

These "auto blu," as the chauffeured cars are known, have become the despised emblems of the privileges of Italy's political elite â¿¿ sentiments that led a quarter of Italians to vote for the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which campaigned on a platform of sending Italy's traditional political classes packing.

Letta on Thursday begins consultations on forming a Cabinet that can win cross-party support and a vote of confidence in Parliament.

His improbable candidacy came after the chief of his Democratic Party, Pier Luigi Bersani, resigned after failing to form a government following inconclusive February elections and then failing to unite the party behind a candidate for president.

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