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Profile: Walter Veltroni

Walter Veltroni, 25 March 2008
Mr Veltroni has more than three decades of political experience

Walter Veltroni is the man tasked with leading Italy's centre-left away from the fractious politics of the past.

A former communist who served for seven years as mayor of Rome, he took over the leadership of the coalition after Romano Prodi's government collapsed in January.

He did so at the head of a recently formed grouping, the Democratic Party (PD).

At 52, Mr Veltroni is relatively youthful by the standards of Italy's political class.

But he has already held a series of senior positions, playing a major role as the left tried to emerge from the Cold War era.

Outgoing and hyperactive, Mr Veltroni also projects a softly spoken and intellectual image - in stark contrast with his opponent in the general elections on 13-14 April, Silvio Berlusconi.

'Last chance'

The centre-left leader's slogan is one of hope, echoing US presidential candidate Barack Obama: "Si puo fare" ("It can be done").

In the polls, he has trailed Mr Berlusconi, who is seeking to be elected as prime minister at the head of a centre-right coalition for a third time.

"I honestly believe we are facing our last chance," Mr Veltroni said during the campaign.

"This is a country with immense potential and immense resources. But Italy has to change. We have to shed the debt and give this country oxygen, to breathe new life into the economy."

He has campaigned energetically in the run-up to the elections, driving round Italy on an eco-friendly bus.

WALTER VELTRONI
Walter Veltroni in Rome, February 26 2008

Born in Rome in 1955; father was a prominent journalist

Early career as left-wing journalist

Deputy to PM Romano Prodi from 1996 to 1998

Mayor of Rome 2001-2008

Authored many books, one of them a study of Robert Kennedy

Mr Veltroni began his political career as a communist youth activist in the 1970s.

Now he claims a bipartisan appeal.

An admirer of the Kennedy brothers, he is also known as a passionate fan of film and jazz.

His critics say he has built a career out of being all things to all men, and his policies, as a result, are often contradictory.

In October, he was chosen by a landslide to lead the PD in an American-style primary.

The party was formed in 2007 out of a merger between the socialist Democrats of the Left and the liberal Christian Democrats of the Margherita (Daisy) party.

The aim is to overcome the bickering, splintered coalitions of the past.

Crucially, the PD is running for the first time without Italy's more extreme left-wing groupings.

Extreme parties on both left and right have held Italian governments hostage, often helping to bring them down.

Never one to be outdone, Mr Berlusconi reacted by re-labelling his own alliance, now called the People of Liberty (PDL).

Party backing

Mr Veltroni has described the PD in almost revolutionary terms, calling it a "new force" that would "invent a new language" to address voters.

He is the first leader of the left for a long time to have the full backing of his party, analysts say.

Mr Prodi, who served twice as prime minister for the centre-left, suffered from not having his own party base within a volatile coalition.

Walter Veltroni during a TV debate in Rome, 4 March 2008
Mr Veltroni's rival, Silvio Berlusconi, is standing for election for a fifth time

As mayor of Rome, Mr Veltroni raised the city's profile by staging cultural events including a new film festival.

Eye-catching new buildings were commissioned from renowned architects.

He also found time to draw attention to the plight of the developing world, campaigning widely on African poverty.

But opponents criticise Mr Veltroni for overlooking everyday problems.

Rome's roads remain congested and its public transport network is in desperate need of overhaul.

Italy's ailing economy is a dominant issue in the 2008 election campaign.

Like rival Silvio Berlusconi, Mr Veltroni has offered tax cuts and pledged to cut public spending.

He has also promised to raise the lowest pensions and introduce a minimum wage.

On political reform, the new PD leader has spoken of his desire to reduce the number of ministers in parliament and to make the Senate function in the manner of a regional assembly - moves intended to stabilise governments and make it easier to pass legislation.


SEE ALSO
Rome mayor launches film festival
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