Berlusconi faces mounting pressure to resign

PRESSURE mounted on Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to quit yesterday as six former parliamentary loyalists called for a new government and the squabbling cabinet failed to agree an urgent economic reform program.

The rebel deputies, three of whom have already left Berlusconi’s coalition, wrote to the premier saying: “We are asking you to take an initiative which is appropriate to the situation”.

“Be the backer of a new political phase and a new government which would have the task, from now until the end of the legislative term, of implementing the agenda agreed with our European partners and with it, the indications which came from the European Central Bank., said the letter published in the daily Corriere della Sera.

Berlusconi has rejected calls to stand aside and make way for an interim government, saying the only alternative would be to hold early elections next spring, which he says would be irresponsible while the crisis continues.

But as the number of party rebels grew, another deputy in the ruling PDL, Giuliano Cazzola, gave an interview to Affaritaliani daily. “The government should resign and the PDL should manage a different solution without clinging to the alternative ‘Us or new elections’,” he said, suggesting that Berlusconi’s chief of staff Gianni Letta could lead a new administration.

President Giorgio Napolitano said on Tuesday he was sounding out support for reform from political forces outside the ruling centre right, suggesting he was contemplating the possibility of a broad-based national unity government.

But yesterday he said the ruling coalition had insisted Berlusconi could continue, there was no alternative to him, and he could carry through on his commitment to economic reform. On the other hand, opposition leaders wanted a unity government, Napoletano said.

Umberto Bossi, leader of the devolutionist Northern League and Berlusconi’s key ally, confirmed his opposition to a technocrat government after talking to Napoletano and said the party would prefer early elections, a year ahead of schedule.

The head of state does not have the power to dismiss a government with a parliamentary majority but as growing numbers of PDL deputies desert Berlusconi, the opposition believe they could have the numbers to topple him as early as next week.

With Greece teetering on the brink of possibly leaving the euro, the future of the single currency could now depend on preventing a meltdown in Italy, which would overwhelm the bloc’s current defence mechanisms.

Berlusconi failed to win support on Wednesday for the comprehensive reforms to stimulate growth and cut Italy’s massive debt that he wanted to take to a G20 meeting in Cannes.

His supporters accused Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti, a constant thorn in his side, of blocking a deal. The meeting agreed on a maxi amendment, containing a number of measures to add to a budget bill currently before the Senate.

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