Italy's president Mattarella calls for unity as he starts second term

Italy's president Sergio Mattarella had initially been reluctant to sign up for a second seven-year term. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ROME (REUTERS) - Sergio Mattarella urged Italians to pull together to support the country's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic after he was sworn in for a second term as Italy's president on Thursday (Feb 3).

The reappointment of Mr Mattarella, who had initially been reluctant to sign up for a second seven-year term, brought some temporary respite to tensions within Italy's broad, ruling coalition after a week of fruitless efforts to find a successor.

"We still need to work together to strengthen Italy, beyond the current difficulties," Mr Mattarella, 80, said in a speech to parliament punctuated by several rounds of applause.

Mr Mattarella said he had not shirked the responsibility of accepting a second term because of the coronavirus crisis and Italy's difficult economic and social conditions.

Italy has recorded more than 147,000 deaths linked to Covid-19, the second highest tally in Europe after Britain, and the economy is still recovering from the shock dealt to businesses by repeated lockdowns and restrictions.

Political tensions are expected to rise in Prime Minister Mario Draghi's broad, unity coalition as parties jockey for position ahead of a national election due early next year.

The president also referred to the situation in Ukraine, where Russian troops have massed on the border, and called for a peaceful solution to the crisis.

"We cannot accept that now, without even the pretext of competition between different political and economic systems, the winds of confrontation are once again blowing across a continent that has experienced the tragedies of the First and Second World Wars," he said.

Crowds lined the streets of the Italian capital as Mr Mattarella was driven from the Quirinale presidential palace to parliament flanked by carabinieri officers on motorbikes.

A 21-gun salute from Rome's Janiculum hill rang out as he was sworn in.

Mr Mattarella, who is from Sicily and is a former government minister, has won the respect of Italians with his quiet, unassuming manner and calm handling of repeated political crises and the health emergency.

In Italy's political system, the president is a powerful figure who gets to appoint prime ministers and is often called on to resolve political crises.

Governments in the euro zone's third-largest economy survive around a year on average.

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