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Italy's lawmakers elect Sergio Mattarella as president in a victory for Premier Matteo Renzi

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ROME — Italian lawmakers elected Sergio Mattarella, a Constitutional Court justice widely considered to be above the political fray, as the nation's new president on the third day of voting Saturday.

Mattarella's election as head of state was clinched when he amassed 505 votes — a simple majority. As the count continued, the 73-year-old former minister with center-left political roots went on to garner 665 votes from the 1,009 eligible electors.

Renzi pushed hard for Mattarella's election, and some of Renzi's rebellious Democrats had protested that the premier had imposed his choice on them. So Mattarella's victory is also a win for Renzi in his bid to close fractious ranks, including former Communists, in the governing coalition's main party.

Supporters of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's center-right opposition forces had said they would cast blank ballots in protest. While acknowledging Mattarella's credentials to be the guarantor the Constitution and arbiter in political crises were acceptable in principle, they resented how Renzi didn't reach out to Berlusconi to achieve consensus on the candidate.

Mattarella raised largely ignored conflict-of-interest concerns when media mogul Silvio Berlusconi jumped into politics two decades ago, and a few years earlier resigned as education minister in one of Giulio Andreotti's government because of legislation that helped Berlusconi transform several local TV channels into a business empire including Italy's three main private TV networks.

Mattarella, a Sicilian, was first elected to Parliament in 1983. His Christian Democrat party was swept away by the Clean Hands corruption probes of the 1990s, but Mattarella was unscathed.

His older brother, Piersanti Mattarella, governor of Sicily, was killed in 1980 by the Mafia.

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Follow Frances D'Emilio at http://www.twitter.com/fdemilio

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