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Berlusconi supports Letta in surprise u turn

The Sydney News.Net Wednesday 2nd October, 2013

ROME - Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta Wednesday won a vote of confidence in the senate, hours after former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi did a u-turn and announced support to the government.


Berlusconi's reversal came after key allies withdrew support for his bid to topple Letta's coalition.

Berlusconi withdrew his party's support, prompting the Senate vote. The three-time premier was incensed at a vote planned on Friday that could strip him of his Senate seat following his tax fraud conviction and four-year prison sentence.

But he backed down when it became clear that several of his senators would back the government.

Letta had earlier said that if he were defeated in the vote, it might prove a "fatal risk" for Italy.

In the event he won easily: the Senate voted 235 to 70 in favour of the government.

Some of Berlusconi's most hardline followers left the chamber and did not vote at all.

The result of the vote increases the possibility of Berlusconi being thrown out of the Senate on the grounds he is a convicted criminal.

On Friday a Senate committee is due to vote on whether to strip him of his seat following his conviction for tax fraud.

As he left the Senate building on Wednesday, people outside greeted him with catcalls, whistles and cries of "go away".

Berlusconi acknowledged defeat earlier Wednesday and said he would support Letta, a day after multiple defections in his party robbed him of the backing he needed to bring down the coalition government.

"Italy needs a government that can produce structural and institutional reforms that the country needs to modernise," Berlusconi said in brief remarks before the vote. "We have decided, not without internal strife, to vote for confidence."

Berlusconi said he changed his mind after hearing Letta's promise to lower taxes and be mindful of the need for reform.

The former prime minister had previously demanded his five Cabinet ministers quit the government in a bid to topple the Letta coalition.

Some analysts saw Berlusconi's defeat this week as heralding a loosening of the tight grip he once had on the People of Freedom Party.

"I think we are seeing the final chapter of Berlusconi's political life," Giacomo Marramao, a politics professor at Roma Tre university, told AFP after the parliamentary vote.

"The result is less credibility, a decline in credibility," Marramao said, citing new divisions within the once fiercely loyal centre-right party.

"A post-Berlusconi party was born today," he said.

Since inconclusive elections in February, Italy has been run by an unusual left-right coalition, headed by the centre-left Democratic Party leader Letta.

Shortly before the vote took place, Berlusconi took the floor in an unexpected address after Letta made an impassioned plea to keep his five-month-old coalition alive.

Berlusconi said he had changed his mind after hearing Letta's promise to lower taxes and mindful of the need for reforms.

The prime minister, who took office in Ap

ril after an election in February that gave no one a clear majority, said he would press on with a program of fiscal measures to keep Italy's badly strained public finances under control and reforms to confront the worst recession in 60 years.

He also pledged to reform the widely criticized electoral law which gives the two houses of parliament equal powers and makes it difficult for any party to win a functioning majority.

However, the surprising nature of his victory leaves a series of unanswered questions about both the stability of his government and the future of Italy's center-right political movement, which came close to implosion as the vote neared.

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