Just two years after the last parliamentary vote, Italy's president dissolved parliament on Wednesday, clearing the way for a spring election.

President Giorgio Napolitano made the decision after Premier Romano Prodi's centre-left government fell late last month and subsequent efforts to form an interim government to change voting rules failed.

Prodi will continue as caretaker premier until the election, which has been set for April 13 and 14.

Italy was plunged into political crisis after Prodi's government collapsed Jan. 24 after only 20 months in power.

The legislature was the second-shortest one in Italy's postwar history, according to Italian media.

Early elections represent a victory for Silvio Berlusconi, the conservative leader who has repeatedly demanded a return to the polls since the fall of Prodi's government.

Berlusconi has firmly rejected any possibility of an interim government. The 71-year-old former premier is hoping for a new stint in power as domestic opinion polls suggest his centre-right coalition would win an early election.

The centre-left coalition trails in opinion polls. Its leader and expected candidate for premier, Walter Veltroni, had hoped to delay a vote by supporting the possibility of an interim government.

Veltroni had been pushing for a change in the election law before any new parliamentary vote is held, saying the risk of instability is too high for whichever coalition wins the next election.

Prodi had to resign after a small centrist party withdrew its support, causing the government to lose a confidence vote in the Senate, where the premier's forces had a minimal edge. Throughout his time in office, Prodi had to mediate between positions in a varied coalition that included several small parties.