Rome

Letta upbeat about govt despite Berlusconi uproar

Premier believes executive has staying power

Letta upbeat about govt despite Berlusconi uproar

(By Kate Carlisle) Rome, June 20 - Premier Enrico Letta said Thursday that he was upbeat about his left-right government's staying power, despite rumblings by ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party to pull their support over the media magnate's legal troubles. "As I see it, the government is stable and focused on its objectives and I don't believe there will be consequences of any type from external affairs," Letta told a meeting with foreign reporters in Rome. He said that he did not believe Italians would have to return to the polls anytime in the near future. Letta said that he hoped for "Constitutional and electoral reforms" but that he did not "foresee early elections anytime soon". The head of Italy's unprecedented left-right executive was speaking after Italy's Constitutional Court on Wednesday rejected Berlusconi's petition for a four-year tax-fraud conviction to be struck down, prompting a wave of protest from the PdL. Letta, a member of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), needs the PdL's support to keep his delicately cobbled executive afloat. Berlusconi said after Wednesday's ruling, which concerned a a four-year conviction he was handed last year for tax fraud on TV rights bought by his Mediaset media empire, was part of a 20-year drive by some magistrates "to eliminate me from political life". He has said many times that his legal problems will not affect the unprecedented PD-PdL government, which was sworn in late in April to end two months of deadlock after February's general election failed to produce a clear winner. However, senior PdL officials have said the party's lawmakers will quit en masse if the fraud conviction, which also includes a five-year ban from Berlusconi holding public office, is upheld by the supreme Court of Cassation. Nevertheless, Letta says he remains upbeat about his government's ability to survive to help Italy move out of its longest recession in over 20 years and pass institutional reforms considered necessary to make the country easier to govern. "All the conditions are in place to do positive things and apply the programme that parliament voted confidence in," Letta said. Letta also stressed that his government had nothing to do with a petition proposed by rabble-rouser Beppe Grillo's 5-Star Movement (M5S) to push Berlusconi out of politics. The vote on whether Berlusconi's vast media holdings make him ineligible for public office has been scheduled for July 9, said M5S Senator Mario Giarrusso Wednesday. However, a motion finalizing the date for vote must be formally approved next Tuesday, Giarrusso added. "In any democratic country, Berlusconi would be in prison or would have been removed from any public role while here he tips the scale," Grillo once said. "I will listen to and follow the instructions of the party...the government has nothing to do (with this initiative)," Letta said. In the several ongoing and previous trials, Berlusconi has always denied wrongdoing, claiming he is the victim of a minority group of allegedly left-wing prosecutors and judges who he says are persecuting him for political reasons. On Monday a Milan court is set to give its verdict in a trial into allegations Berlusconi, 76, paid for sex with an underage prostitute and abused his power to try to cover up the affair. The three-time premier is also appealing a one-year term for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap and facing indictment for allegedly buying Senators to topple a centre-left government.

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