Justice row overshadows Letta's cabinet-bonding retreat

Centre left angry PdL ministers took part in Berlusconi demo

Justice row overshadows Letta's cabinet-bonding retreat

Rome, May 13 - A huge justice row has overshadowed Premier Enrico Letta's attempts to create harmony within his left-right coalition government with a ministers' retreat at a former abbey in Tuscany. Letta and members of his centre-left Democratic Party are furious that ministers from Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party took part in a demonstration in Brescia on Saturday against alleged persecution by some magistrates of the 76-year-old ex-premier. The rally, which included the participation of Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, was called after a Milan court failed to overturn a four-year conviction Berlusconi was handed for fraud at his media empire. "Occasions like Brescia are unacceptable," Letta's spokesman said Sunday on the first day of the retreat, which ends later on Monday. "They cannot be repeated because the negative effects are greater than the government's ability to stay together. "Letta has repeatedly said that he is not prepared to keep the government going at any cost". The row increased tensions within an alliance between two parties that have long been fierce foes which were already high following the Berlusconi's threats to sink the fledgling executive unless it scraps a property tax called IMU and returns revenues taken from it in 2012. Letta has pledged to suspend June IMU payments but has not said he will abolish the tax completely. The PdL said there was nothing wrong with ministers taking part in Saturday's rally. "The PDL won't bring down its banners and hide its identity," said Alfano's spokeswoman. "It will remain by Berlusconi's side". However, the coalition partners have reportedly agreed to a truce of sorts in which ministers will not take part in electoral rallies or televised debates not connected with their portfolios until after local elections later this month. Letta's government was formed in April to end two months of deadlock after February's general election failed to produce a clear winner.

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