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Liberal Italian PM resigns after populist victory in historic referendum

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Italian Premier Matteo Renzi speaks during a press conference at the premier's office Chigi Palace in Rome, early Monday. Renzi acknowledged defeat in a constitutional referendum and announced he will resign. Italians voted Sunday in a referendum on constitutional reforms that Renzi had staked his political future on. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

The wave of economic populism in Western Europe and the U.S. has officially spread to Italy, with the country's liberal prime minister resigning on Monday after a historic referendum vote.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said he would meet with Italy's president and offer his resignation after 60 percent of Italians voted against a referendum for which he advocated.

"Tomorrow the President of the Republic will have a meeting with me and I will hand in my resignation," Renzi, who assumed office in February 2014, said, according to CNN. "I take on full responsibilities for defeat and so I say I lost, not you."

"When you lose you cannot pretend that nothing has happened and go to bed and sleep," he added. "My government ends here today."

If approved, the measure would have weakened the power of the upper house in the Italian Parliament, cutting the number of its members from 315 to 100. Proponents said reducing the number of lawmakers in the "Senato" would have made it easier to govern, but opponents claimed that doing so would have handed more power to the central government at a time when Italy's economy is still struggling.

"It was shifting power from the regions to the center in a really unbalanced way. It was a dangerous reform for the roots of our democratic system," Elly Schlein, an Italian member of the European Parliament, said.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella now faces the option of either forming a new government by tapping current members of his Parliament or holding a general election in which populist candidate and Italian TV star Beppe Grillo, a figure whose background is stunningly reminiscent of that of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, would likely be a major contender from the country's Five Star Movement party.

If Grillo is elected Italy's next prime minister, he could choose to hold yet another referendum to change Italy's currency from the Euro to the Italian lira while also offering voters the choice to leave the European Union, as voters in Great Britain decided in June.

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