Berlusconi says Bersani 'finally open to meeting'

Date not yet announced as pressure mounts to forge coalition

Berlusconi says Bersani 'finally open to meeting'

Rome, April 8 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi of the center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party on Monday said that Pier Luigi Bersani of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) "was finally open to meeting" amid the country's political impasse. "The date isn't fixed," said Berlusconi, who reiterated his call to form a broad coalition in parliament. "Everyone knows my and the PdL's position: we must give the country a stable and strong government," he said. Berlusconi has insisted on forming a broad coalition with the center-left since elections late February produced no clear winner. Bersani has repeatedly shrugged off alliance offers, despite growing criticism from his opponents and many media commentators, as well as causing friction within the center-left PD. PD rising star and touted future leader Matteo Renzi has accused Italian parties of "time-wasting" while the country suffers. Even the veteran pro-PD founder and editorialist of left-leaning daily La Repubblica, Eugenio Scalfari, scolded Bersani for his apparent obstinacy in a leader comment Sunday, saying that bid was "evidently exhausted". In reply Monday, Bersani wrote to La Repubblica saying Italy needs a stable government able to respond quickly to its economic crisis, rather than a body that is constantly focused on its own survival. "Our country is really in trouble," Bersani said in the letter. He condemned the continued uncertainty around Italy's future government as taking a cruel toll on economic prospects but repeated his disdain for a coalition with the centre-right led by Berlusconi. "They multiply the conditions of extreme malaise and worsen a radical drop in confidence," said Bersani in his letter. "We want a government, of course. But a government that can act the common life of the citizens. "Not a government that lives in acrobatics". But working in partnership with Berlusconi is an option favoured by a growing number of Bersani's PD, and not just Renzi. The PD is obliged to team up with the media magnate-turned-politician, they say, because it won a majority in the lower house of parliament in late-February elections but failed to win a majority in the equally powerful Senate. Bersani argues that he can gamble on securing a Senate confidence vote for a minority 'government of change' with policies gauged to appeal to comedian Grillo's 5-Star Movement - despite the comedian-turned-politician's blanket refusal to deal with either the PD or PdL, which he damns as equal culprits in a malfunctioning system that has delivered debt, corruption and recession. The latest PD figure to come out in favour of a right-left coalition was Dario Franceschini, former leader of the more centrist Daisy party that formed the PD with the ex-Communist Democratic Left in 2007. "I really can't see any alternative," Franceschini told reporters. The PD will try to win more public support next Saturday with an anti-poverty rally announced Monday. Meanwhile, despite reports that Berlusconi was cooling to the alliance idea, the PdL maintained Monday that Bersani "desperately" needs the centre-right's support to tackle Italy's economic woes. "The priority for the PdL is to help Italy to exit quickly from the crisis by supporting businesses and families," by working with Bersani, said Barbara Saltamartini, a member of the PdL national directorate. Senior PdL figures over the weekend slammed Bersani's "overweening pride" in allegedly putting personal ambition before the country's needs. Bersani denied such claims in the La Repubblica letter, reiterating that he was "always ready" to stand aside if a more accommodating figure emerged. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano appointed 10 'wise men' to propose possible consensus policies including a much-needed electoral reform after a first government-formation bid by Bersani flopped 10 days ago. The two panels of institutional and political-economic experts are likely to produce their proposals Thursday, sources close to the panels said Monday. But even the head of the institutional reform panel, Constitutional Court chief Valerio Onida, has come out publicly as saying their work is just a diversion and there is no plausible way out of the post-election stalemate. Onida was forced to apologise after falling victim to a prank radio phone call and candidly voicing his deep skepticism about the utility of the wise men's work. A successor to Napolitano, due to be named by mid-May, may well dissolve parliament and call another snap vote, pundits say, despite Napolitano's best efforts to avoid this. Prolonged political stability is being closely watched by the financial markets, ever ready to pounce, and Italy's eurozone partners who are worried about any further pressure on the bloc after the recent Cyprus banking crisis.

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