Ex-ally to crush Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition

A FORMER ally of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will deal him a crippling blow today.

The new Future and Liberty party of Gianfranco Fini, Speaker of the lower house of parliament, said Mr Berlusconi would find four resignation letters on his desk when he returned from the G20 summit in South Korea. They will be from European Affairs Minister Andrea Ronchi and three junior ministers.

“In my country I have some difficulties in this moment,” said Mr Berlusconi to his summit counterpart from Vietnam before cancelling a scheduled news conference.

Mr Fini, whose calls for Mr Berlusconi to resign have been rejected, has accused the Prime Minister of only “pretending” to govern. Mr Fini will break ranks in the coming weeks by voting against him in parliament.

If Mr Berlusconi loses his majority, President Giorgio Napolitano will consult party leaders before deciding whether to give him the chance to form a new, perhaps broader-based, government. However, the President could appoint an outsider as prime minister, or call early elections.

Mr Berlusconi’s approval rating has fallen to 34 per cent in the wake of corruption scandals and an investigation into acquaintances suspected of abetting prostitution. They are alleged to have supplied him with women paid for “bunga-bunga” orgies at his villas near Milan and on Sardinia’s Emerald Coast, though Berlusconi has denied the allegations.

He has also come under fire from the Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, said: “Today’s Italy is as sick as Milan at the time of the plague . . . immorality is rampant at all levels.”

Mr Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party is well ahead of its rivals, though, including Mr Fini’s new group, which scores 5 per cent in the polls.

The inner circle of the Prime Minister insists he could win a vote of confidence in parliament, despite Mr Fini being backed by 35 MPs and 14 senators.

If he loses, Mr Berlusconi has promised: “We are ready to . . . go to the polls.”

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