Lawmakers threaten to break ties with Berlusconi

ROME – About 20 Italian centre-right lawmakers may break

with leader Silvio Berlusconi if he tries to bring down prime

minister Enrico Letta’s coalition in a dispute over Berlusconi’s fraud

conviction, a centre-right party source warned today.

In a move that may give Letta, from the center-left, a chance

to save his government following the resignations of five ministers

from Berlusconi’s People of Freedom, some 20 PDL senators will

tell the party leader today they may form a breakaway group in the

upper house, the source told Reuters.

“If Silvio doesn’t agree to take a step back from what the

hawks are proposing, we could have a new moderate group by

Wednesday,” the source said.

The comment slightly revived prices of Italian stocks and bonds,

which have suffered from the prospect of new uncertainty and

lack of economic reforms as former premier Berlusconi fights an

impending expulsion from the Senate following his conviction.

An inconclusive election in February led to the formation of a

fragile left-right coalition under Letta two months later.

Berlusconi’s decision to order the five ministers to resign

on Saturday has plunged Italy into political chaos and left the

euro zone’s third-largest economy without a fully operational

government, prompting warnings that its sovereign debt rating

is at risk.

The move also deepened splits between hardline “hawks” and

moderate “doves” in Berlusconi’s party. A day after they resigned,

all five ministers expressed reservations about their move, which

came after a week of growing tensions. Other PDL lawmakers have

also openly dissented with the resignations.

Centre-right lawmakers will meet Berlusconi at 5 p.m.

(1500 GMT) in what is likely to be a stormy encounter ahead

of a confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday where Letta is

openly counting on support from PDL dissidents.

The source said the senators were ready to form a new

conservative group separate from the center-right force that

Berlusconi, a billionaire media magnate, has dominated ever since

he entered politics in 1994. (Reuters)

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