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Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Coalition pins hopes on Rutelli
 Francesco Rutelli
Rutelli is seen as the left's best election hope
Italy's fragile coalition government has picked a new face to fight the general election next year.

Rutelli is the novelty, the generational turn, the spirit of competition

La Repubblica
Mayor of Rome Francesco Rutelli will do battle with the main right-wing candidate Silvio Berlusconi after Prime Minister Giuliano Amato pulled out of the centre-left coalition's leadership contest.

Mr Rutelli, 46, faces a tough struggle to retain power. Recent opinion polls suggest former Prime Minister Mr Berlusconi would win more than 50% of the vote next April.

Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi is a formidible opponent
But centre-left leaders see the handsome, young mayor as better equipped than Mr Amato to fight Mr Berlusconi.

"Rutelli is the novelty, the generational turn, the spirit of competition, the challenge on Berlusconi's grounds of modernisation, newness and image," wrote La Repubblica, a left-leaning daily.

For several weeks the nine parties in the governing coalition have been struggling to decide who would lead them into the next election.

In the end it was Mr Amato himself who decided the contest.

Battle averted

In a surprise move during a chat show interview on Monday he announced that he personally backed Mr Rutelli.

Giuliano Amato
Giuliano Amato backed Rutelli on a TV chat show

Mr Rutelli praised what he called Amato's statesmanlike decision.

Coalition leaders are clearly relieved by Mr Amato's announcement. They say he has averted what could have been a damaging internal battle.

Mr Rutelli has conceded that the task ahead will not be easy.

While Mr Berlusconi is a major player on the international stage, Mr Rutelli is a virtual unknown.

Mr Berlusconi also controls a media empire and has shown in the past he knows how to use it.

Mr Berlusconi also has staying power. Despite a bribery conviction that forced him out of office in 1994 and subsequent convictions for political corruption, his political star is still rising.

Mr Rutelli does not enjoy universal support. Several newspapers have accused Mr Rutelli of political inconsistency.

He has previously switched allegiances from the Radical Party to the Greens and is currently with the Democrats.

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See also:

26 Apr 00 | Europe
Italian prime minister sworn in
21 Apr 00 | Europe
Italy set for new government
21 Apr 00 | Europe
Italy to name new premier
08 Jul 98 | Europe
Convicted Berlusconi lashes out
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