Rome

Berlusconi risks isolation after threatening Monti govt

Ex-premier sparks turmoil following fraud conviction

Berlusconi risks isolation after threatening Monti govt

Rome, October 29 - Silvio Berlusconi risks becoming increasingly isolated politically after he threatened to bring down Premier Mario Monti's emergency government at the weekend following a fraud conviction on Friday. The ex-premier said the conviction had forced him to stay in front-line politics, after he suggested last week he was retiring, in order to push through justice reforms, although he stressed that he had not changed his mind about not running for a fourth term in elections next year. Berlusconi said there was a "dictatorship of magistrates" after being given a four-year sentence for tax fraud on the trading of film rights by his Mediaset media empire and being banned from public office for five years. He will not have to serve three years of the sentence if the ruling is upheld because of a 2006 amnesty law. The 76-year-old media magnate also criticised Monti on Saturday, days after saying his unelected administration of non-political technocrats was doing a good job at tackling the economic crisis despite some mistakes. His comments were blasted by the the centre-left Democratic Party and the centrist UDC, both of which support Monti's administration in parliament, as Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party has done since the financial crisis forced the ex-premier to resign last year. But tellingly, they were also given a cool reception from some parts of the PDL. Fabrizio Cicchitto, House whip for the PdL, expressed concern that Italy's borrowing costs would rise if there were moves to bring down the government because the ensuing political instability would hit investor confidence. There is even speculation that the PdL could split if Berlusconi follows through on his threat and tries to bring down the government. Several senior PdL figures, including party Secretary Angelino Alfano, Cicchitto and former foreign minister Franco Frattini, are said to be willing to break away and support the Monti government in parliament to stop it falling.

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