ROME -- Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti's new government faced a crisis Saturday that could force its resignation within the next few days, political commentators said.
The crisis was provoked by Giorgio La Malfa, 51, leader of the small Republican Party, who objected strongly to the ministerial posts assigned to the three Republicans in the Cabinet list Andreotti announced Friday.
La Malfa said in a press statement the 72-year-old Christian Democrat prime minister had gone back on his promise to confirm the three Republican ministers in the posts they held in the government Andreotti resigned March 29.
'In these conditions, having told the party there was an agreement, which then was not carried out, I can only draw the consequences and therefore tender my resignation (as party secretary),' La Malfa's statement said.
The Republican Party, which had agreed to be part of Andreotti's 5- party coalition, immediately announced it would hold a meeting of the party executive Monday to review the situation.
But in the meantime, the three Republican Party ministers appointed by Andreotti informed President Francesco Cossiga they would not attend the swearing-in ceremony held at the presidential Quirinal Palace at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The ceremony took place without the three Republicans. As a stop-gap measure Andreotti formally assumed two of their posts 'ad interim' while the third post, which was without portfolio, was left vacant pending the outcome of the Republican Party meeting.
The three Republicans involved were Adolfo Battaglia, named minister of State Participation; Giuseppe Galasso, named Minister of Cultural Property; and Antonio Maccanico, named Minister without Portfolio for Regional Affairs.
If La Malfa maintains his resignation at Monday's Republican Party meeting, the party must decide whether to withdraw its support from Andreotti's coalition. If this happens the government probably will have to resign, political commentators said.
In this case Cossiga would have to start new consultations to try to find another candidate capable of forming a majority government. If that failed there probably would have to be early parliamentary elections more than a year ahead of schedule.
But Cossiga, who said it was the first time ministers had refused to be sworn in for political reasons, said he 'would take the decisions within my competence in relation to the facts and principles' of his role as head of a parliamentary republic.
The government Andreotti announced Friday was little more than a minor reshuffle of the coalition he resigned March 29 and was composed of the same five parties -- Christian Democrats, Socialists, Republicans, Social Democrats and Liberals -- which have governed Italy for most of the past decade.
Of its 32 ministers, not including Andreotti, 18 retained the same posts they held in the former government and six others served in the old government, but in different posts.