Berlusconi declares Italian 'civil war' over

'Strong' left-right govt will reform country, ex-premier says

Berlusconi declares Italian 'civil war' over

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, June 5 - Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday said Italy's unprecedented new left-right government had ended the political strife that has split Italy in two since he entered the fray in 1994. Three-time premier Berlusconi said Premier Enrico Letta's administration was "strong" because the seemingly unnatural alliance between his People of Freedom (PdL) party and Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) agreement marked the end of two decades of a "long cold war, a civil war". Berlusconi, who was the prime mover behind a deal to bury the hatchet with his old foes after February's inconclusive general election, stressed the government must focus on reforms to make Italy easier to govern, including changes to the much-criticised electoral law and a new set-up in which getting laws through parliament would be less arduous. He said these reforms should include changes that would make the Italian president directly elected by the people, rather than voted in by regional representatives and lawmakers of the Lower House and the Senate. "It's important that both sides support the government and that it can pass a reform of the Constitution that can bring direct elections to the head of state," Berlusconi told T9, a Rome-based local TV channel. The centre-right touchstone and media magnate is thought to hold ambitions of becoming president. The PD is divided over whether having a president elected by the people is a good idea, with some fearing a charismatic leader like Berlusconi or anti-establishment comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, who scored heavily in the general election but is boycotting the old parties, might ride roughshod over parliament. Letta on Tuesday named a 35-strong panel of experts representing a broad spectrum of political views to advise on Constitutional reforms, which he has said will take 18 months to frame. Berlusconi also said Letta should not to let Italy get pushed around by the European Union. "What we need is for this government to go to Brussels and I say 'I'm doing things this way'. We can no longer accept certain diktats," former premier Berlusconi told T9, a Rome-based local TV channel. "We are the ones who have to decide what is necessary to put our economy back on its feet". In the campaign for February's general election, Berlusconi blasted Letta's predecessor Mario Monti for allegedly being too compliant to the EU in pushing through austerity policies that eased investor concerns about Italy's debt crisis, but also deepened the long recession the country is currently enduring. Letta's government was formed in April to end two months of deadlock after February's vote produced no clear winner. The administration looks unsteady and may be short-lived as PdL and PD politicians continuously bicker over a range of issues including Berlusconi's banner campaign pledge to scrap an unpopular property tax and give back last year's proceeds. Berlusconi went on to tell another Rome station, TeleRoma56, that he had been able to maintain focus on his political duties despite his much-publicised legal woes. "Despite everything that was thrown on me in the legal field, we have kept the rudder straight supporting this government," he said. Berlusconi, who is embroiled in a number of legal cases, has long argued that he is the victim of allegedly left-wing prosecutors and judges who he says are persecuting him for political reasons. He is currently on trial on charges that he paid for sex with an underage prostitute and abused his office to try to cover up the affair. He is also appealing a four-year conviction for fraud at his media empire and a one-year sentence for publishing an illegally obtained wiretap. The three-time premier also faces indictment for allegedly buying a Senator to help topple a previous centre-left government.

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