ROME (Reuters) - Romano Prodi was finally sworn in as Italy's new prime minister on Wednesday and vowed to soothe political tensions in a country split in two by the closest election in its post-war history.
Prodi, who was given the mandate to govern by President Giorgio Napolitano on Tuesday, took the oath of office with his new cabinet after protracted negotiations with his centre-left coalition partners over the distribution of portfolios.
"There is a great desire for a new start combined with a desire for cohesion and unity," the 66-year-old former European Commission chief said after announcing his team, drawn from eight centre-left parties.
Prodi's coalition won a razor-thin victory in the April 9-10 ballot over the centre-right bloc led by Silvio Berlusconi, who governed for a record five years and is still contesting the result of the vote.
"The first commitment will be to rebuild a spirit of solidarity and a consensus on the goals needed for the country to move forward, and that means lowering the level of tension and litigiousness," Prodi said.
Ten years to the day since he began his first stint as prime minister, Prodi named former European Central Bank board member Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa as economy minister, responsible for tackling Italy's weak growth and debt mountain.
Massimo D'Alema, who comes from the biggest party in Prodi's bloc, was made foreign minister and will share the role of deputy prime minister with Daisy Party leader Francesco Rutelli.
Giuliano Amato, a former prime minister, will head the interior ministry. Six women, fewer than the nine promised by Prodi, are among the 26 members of the new government, but only one has a high-profile ministry.
Prodi called his cabinet "a united team, not just a group of individuals," even though he had to battle through the night to put the final touches to the list, pressured by allies who have squabbled over top jobs for weeks.
The infighting laid bare the problems that Prodi is likely to face as he governs with a very slim parliamentary majority stretching from Roman Catholic moderates to communists.
His government needs to get down to work quickly as rating agencies have threatened to downgrade Italy's debt unless overdue but unpopular reforms are enacted soon.
But Berlusconi has pledged a head-on opposition and analysts say Prodi will find it hard to push through any far-reaching policies.
Under the headline "More left than centre", Italy's leading newspaper Corriere della Sera said wrangling over cabinet posts had skewed the government's balance from its centrist roots. "A government is born that is weighted to the left," it wrote.
Prodi's path to power since the election has been delayed by the need to choose a new head of state as the former president's mandate expired just after the election.
He must still win a confidence vote in the Senate, probably on Friday, and another in the lower house early next week, before fully taking charge.
Many commentators wonder how long he can last. His first spell in government ended after two years in 1998 when the communists withdrew their support.
Berlusconi, in his final news conference as prime minister on Tuesday, said his was "only a see you later", not a farewell.
(Additional reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio, Giselda Vagnoni, Rachel Sanderson)