>>>ANSA/ PdL ups threat to pull plug if Berlusconi banned

'Difficult to follow Letta without our leader' says whip

>>>ANSA/ PdL ups threat to pull plug if Berlusconi banned

Rome, July 11 - Silvio Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party ramped up threats Thursday it would pull its support from the fragile coalition government if the ex-premier were banned from office. "If Berlusconi is banned for life, it would be very difficult for the PdL without its leader to pursue the experience of the (Enrico) Letta government," said PdL Senate Whip Renato Schifani. The PdL has been outraged by what they consider "political persecution" by allegedly leftist judges who have delivered a series of legal blows to the political and industrial titan in recent weeks. On Wednesday the party secured a one-day halt to parliamentary business to discuss its reaction to a supreme Cassation Court decision to start hearings in just three weeks in a case where the media mogul is appealing a jail term and a ban from public office. The three-time premier is appealing a four-year term for inflating film-rights purchases at his Mediaset media empire, cut to one for an amnesty, as well as a five-year ban from public office. As he is over 70 he would not serve the year in prison if definitively convicted but have to do social work. However the ban would kick in if, as usually happens, parliament ratifies it. There has been some speculation that the PD may not all vote to ban Berlusconi. As well as calling for the halt to parliamentary business, the PdL said it would no longer attend a government summit set to address thorny issues like the repeal of property tax IMU and the avoidance of a 1% hike in VAT. Many have worried that the fragile stability of the unprecedented left-right coalition was at risk over Berlusconi's legal entanglements. Members of his party have threatened to resign from government en masse if their leader's ban from office is upheld. But the European affairs minister said Thursday that the stability of the government "is not at risk". "All the explicit political signs we're receiving are in the spirit of guaranteeing solidity to the government," said Enzo Moavero Milanesi, a political independent. While not blaming the PD for the Cassation Court's action, the PdL has said this alleged latest instance of judicial persecution against their leader could bring down the fragile coalition with their traditional foes. Diehard Silvio Berlusconi loyalist and MP Daniela Santanché said Wednesday that if the PdL's request to suspend government meetings had not been respected there would have been consequences. "Bringing down a government is not a political action, it is a consequence of political action," Santanché said. On Thursday she reiterated her party's feelings against Italy's judiciary, calling for a law that would punish politically biased magistrates with jail.

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