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Italy's president began consultations Thursday on forming a new government following the victory of far-right leader Giorgia Meloni in elections last month, as tensions over Ukraine threatened the unity of her coalition.
Meloni, 45, is expected to be named Italy's first woman prime minister following the talks, which are set to wrap up Friday, after her post-fascist Brothers of Italy party came top in September 25 polls.
But the largely procedural process has been overshadowed by the leak of a recording of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi -- whose Forza Italia party is part of Meloni's coalition -- talking about his warm ties with Moscow and appearing to blame the war in Ukraine on its president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Meloni, whose party is Eurosceptic but who has strongly backed Western support for Kyiv and sanctions against Russia, issued a statement late Wednesday to make her position clear.
"I intend to lead a government with a clear and unequivocal foreign policy line," she said, after more than 24 hours of silence over the leak.
"Italy is fully, and with its head held high, part of Europe and the Atlantic Alliance."
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Her statement included a clear warning to her allies, who also include Matteo Salvini of the far-right League party, who has also previously expressed his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Anyone who does not agree with this cornerstone will not be able to be part of the government, even at the cost of not forming a government," Meloni said.
Berlusconi, 86, also said in a statement that his personal and political position "do not deviate from that of the Italian government (and) the European Union" on Ukraine.
But the tensions only add to concerns that Meloni's coalition, held together by the need for a parliamentary majority, will struggle to maintain a coherent policy on foreign issues, and others.
"Meloni, Russian roulette," read the headline of La Repubblica newspaper Thursday.
Meloni's appointment is a given but under Italy's constitution, President Sergio Mattarella will only name her after holding formal talks with all the major parties.
The newly elected speaker of the Senate, Brothers of Italy veteran Ignazio La Russa, was first to arrive at the grand Quirinale presidential palace in Rome, once home to centuries of popes.
Then came the speaker of the lower house of parliament, to be followed by smaller parties and representatives from the main party in the opposition, the centre-left Democratic Party.
On Friday morning, it is the turn of representatives of Meloni's coalition, with speculation she could be asked to form a government as early as Friday afternoon.
She will then have to confirm she is able to form a government with her allies, and could be sworn in with her ministers as early as the weekend.
However, the process of allocating the top jobs has been fraught, with Berlusconi and Salvini -- whose parties won just eight and nine percent, respectively, in the elections, well below Meloni's 26 percent -- angling for influence.
Berlusconi ally Antonio Tajani, a former president of the European Parliament, is widely tipped to become foreign minister.
Meanwhile, League veteran Giancarlo Giorgetti has been tipped as economy minister, with the responsibility of guiding debt-laden Italy through a crisis sparked by soaring inflation linked to the war in Ukraine.
Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief parachuted in to lead a national unity government in February 2022, has no formal role in the consultation process.
He headed Thursday to a European Union summit in Brussels, and was due to return to Rome on Friday afternoon.
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