ROME Italians greeted Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's pledge to resign with a mix of joy, resignation and skepticism on Wednesday.
"He's up to something," said 57-year-old office worker Mirella Maturani. "If he quits tomorrow, then I'll be happy," she said, adding that she felt his immediate departure was the first step needed to solve Italy's economic woes.
Berlusconi has said he will step down once parliament approves reforms demanded by European partners, which will spell the end of his 17-year dominance of the country and lead to a change of government that many Italians say is long overdue.
"Finally! And I'm a Berlusconi sympathizer. But at least now we can try something new," said 52-year-old rail worker Giuseppe Russo, sipping a coffee at a bar in central Rome.
Antonella Saddi, 49, and her friends said they had greeted the news of the 75-year-old billionaire media tycoon's imminent resignation with a Mexican wave.
But she said she was worried about how long it would take to form a new government.
"I don't know how long it will take for elections, or what kind of new government we will have. We don't know how much time is going to pass, and if the new government will arrive too late."
She said she thought a technical interim government was needed to implement reforms quickly, but on Wednesday there were few signs of a swift appointment of a new administration. Berlusconi said he did not expect an election until early 2012.
Italian borrowing costs rose close to breaking point on Wednesday as Berlusconi's promise failed to raise optimism about the country's ability to deliver long-promised economic reforms.
The debt crisis in the euro zone's third largest economy has fueled concerns among Italians about their jobs, life savings, and pensions.
"I'm worried that my savings could become waste paper. All the efforts to put something aside and I won't get anything for it," said Pietro Pappagallo, a 59-year-old from Bari in the southern Puglia region.
"I've already faced four changes to my pension. I had planned my life out and then they say I have to work more. As a father I worry for my children, who will probably never have a pension."
Rising consumer prices, stagnating wages and growing numbers of unemployed friends and relatives are among the problems that worry people most in Italy, which has been one of Europe's most sluggish economies for more than a decade.
But younger people also said they saw an opportunity in Berlusconi's departure for cultural renewal, hoping that Italians will develop a greater sense of civic duty.
"Berlusconi represented a way of life that we were wrong to follow. I hope we realize that was not the right path and start working in the collective interest, not just for ourselves," said 28-year-old Mario Roma, a security worker from Naples.
Few can think of strong candidates to replace Berlusconi.
"I hope that the intellectual Italians will be involved finally in governing the nation, so all these difficult issues can be handled by a capable person," said Vittorio Casadei, a 41-year-old accountant from Rome.
"Like Umberto Eco, for example," he said of the author of novels such as The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum.
"He is very good at explaining our problems in the newspapers, but I don't think he has ever tried to tackle these problems directly. We need people like this to take on the responsibility and give confidence back to Italians."
(Reporting By Catherine Hornby; editing by Andrew Roche)