Romano Prodi, Italy’s prime minister, made clear on Friday he planned to retire from politics by 2011 at the latest, opening the way for a new generation of leaders.

“It is my wish that by the end of this legislature it will be possible to say that my task has been completed, because Italy will need new leaders and broader political participation,” Mr Prodi told a party congress in Rome.

Mr Prodi, who will turn 68 in August, became premier for the second time in his career last May, one month after he defeated Silvio Berlusconi, his centre-right predecessor, in the most closely fought election in modern Italian history.

Italian parliaments normally sit for five years, and Mr Prodi has often said he intends to serve as the leader of his nine-party centre-left coalition right up to April 2011.

However, his government has been plagued with disputes over economic and foreign policy between its moderate and radical leftist elements, and it lacks a guaranteed majority in the Senate, parliament’s upper house.

In February Mr Prodi was forced to offer his resignation to Giorgio Napolitano, Italy’s president, after he lost a foreign policy vote in the Senate. Mr Napolitano, however, asked Mr Prodi to stay on as premier.

Many centre-left and centre-right legislators doubt that Mr Prodi’s government is strong enough to last a full five-year term. But Mr Prodi’s fall from power would not necessarily trigger a snap election, because a different centre-left leader might find it possible to construct a government without him.

Mr Prodi’s retirement will clear the way for a younger set of politicians to lead the Italian centre-left. Opinion polls suggest the most popular figure is Walter Veltroni, 51, the mayor of Rome, who served as Mr Prodi’s deputy prime minister during his first premiership from 1996 to 1998.

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