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Italy's new government wins first of two confidence votes

Premier Paolo Gentiloni has won a vote of confidence from the Italian Parliament's lower chamber for his new government, overcoming opposition outrage that his cabinet and agenda essentially mirror those of his humiliated predecessor.

The chamber voted 368-105 on Tuesday night to back Mr Gentiloni and his cabinet.

Opposition politicians from the anti-European Union Northern League and the populist 5-Star Movement had vowed to abstain from the vote to protest Mr Gentiloni's "photocopied" cabinet.

They said that by retaining so many ministers from ex-premier Matteo Renzi's cabinet, Mr Gentiloni ignored the results of the December 4 referendum in which Italians overwhelmingly rejected Mr Renzi and his reforms.

The Senate is expected to vote on a confidence motion on Wednesday.

Approval from both houses is required for the government already sworn in by President Sergio Mattarella to carry on its mandate.

The aim is to have a government in place before Mr Gentiloni heads to Brussels on Thursday for a European Council summit.

The opposition is particularly irked that Mr Renzi's reforms minister, who had promised to leave politics if the referendum failed, was named an under-secretary in Mr Gentiloni's office.

"Italians said 'no,' but it doesn't seem to matter!" Giorgia Meloni, of the opposition Italy Brothers party, told Mr Gentiloni during the parliamentary debate. "Italians expressed themselves in an unequivocal way, but they don't care and they stay attached to their thrones."

Mr Gentiloni defended Mr Renzi's term and insisted that his Democratic Party was doing the responsible thing by forming a government that could lead Italy until elections. He said he was taking a "political risk" by doing so, but that the Constitution requires the party with a parliamentary majority to try to form a government.

He acknowledged the difficulties ahead, saying his talks with politicians showed the "impossibility of a general convergence". But he said he hoped that on individual items, opposition forces could find common ground with the majority.

Addressing Italy's banking crisis, Mr Gentiloni said the government was ready to intervene to "guarantee" banks and Italians' savings. And he said the government would help politicians draft a new electoral law that harmonises the rules between both houses of Parliament.

Opposition parties have clamoured for an early election following Mr Renzi's drubbing at the polls, but the current law has one set of rules for the Senate and another for the lower Chamber of Deputies.

The European Council summit on Thursday is just one of several international appointments on Italy's agenda in 2017 that Mr Gentiloni, the former foreign minister, cited to reinforce the need to have a stable government in place.

Italy on January 1 takes up a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council and in May hosts the Group of Seven. In March, it plans to host a summit to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, one of the founding treaties of the European Union.

Many of Mr Renzi's ministers kept their jobs in the Cabinet that was sworn in Monday: Finance Minister Carlo Padoan, Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti as well as the ministers of justice, health, infrastructure and culture. Angelino Alfano shifted from being interior minister to foreign minister - a key job given Italy's 2017 international commitments.

AP

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