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Renzi clears final confidence vote

ROME (AP) — Premier Matteo Renzi easily won a final vote of confidence on Tuesday, clearing the way for his new government to begin a slate of promised reforms to Italy's economy and institutions.

Renzi won the vote in the lower house by a vote of 378-220, after clearing the Senate in the early hours by a slimmer margin. Renzi, at 39 Italy's youngest premier, told lawmakers before the vote that his first foreign trip as Italy's leader will be to Tunisia, not Brussels or Berlin, though he underlined Italy's place in Europe.

Renzi's choice to delay courtesy calls to his European partners was a clear signal of discontinuity with Italy's last two governments, which emphasized ties with Europe even as ordinary Italians bristled at austerity measures imposed at the EU's behest.

Still, Renzi said he wanted to have the first reforms of his government completed before Italy takes up the head of the rotating presidency of the EU in July, so that Italy does not carry the same baggage as Europe's laggard.

"Europe is not our enemy," he told lawmakers. Among the reforms pledged by Renzi is to pass a new election law aimed at bringing stability to Italian politics and abolish the Senate, as well as fiscal measures like reducing income and payroll taxes and overhauling the justice system to encourage investment.

Renzi was sworn into office on Saturday following his brash maneuver to push aside the former premier, Enrico Letta, through an internal Democratic Party power play. Letta, who exchanged a frigid handshake with Renzi at Saturday's swearing in ceremony, received big round of applause when he entered the chamber for the vote.

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