Rome

Letta fed up of 'ultimatums'

Premier decries centre-right threats on Berlusconi, IMU

Letta fed up of 'ultimatums'

Rome, July 12 - Italy's centre-left Premier Enrico Letta has said he is fed up with "ultimatums" from Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) Party threatening to topple the executive unless it delivers on coveted policies like the repeal of the IMU property tax and makes sure the former premier is not banned from politics. "Enough of these ultimatums," Letta said after the PdL said it would pull the plug if a tax-fraud conviction is upheld and the three-time premier banned from office for five years next month. The PdL has been veering between support for the unprecedented left-right government and threats to down it after the supreme court brought the final appeal in the four-year tax fraud conviction forward to July 30. It has also raised and lowered the government threat level linked to its banner policy pledge of abolishing IMU and repaying last year's take. Letta, of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), has so far put off the issue while vowing to "supersede" IMU but several ministers have said it would bust the budget, echoing international bodies like the IMF. The PD agrees with unions and business groups that lowering labour taxes to help revive an economy in its longest recession for over 20 years is a bigger priority than IMU. The government also has to find the money for job-creation schemes co-financed with the EU and approved at a summit last week. Italy's unemployment rate is at a record 13% while youth unemployment is nearly 40%. Rome won concessions to spend on projects to create jobs while sticking to the 3% budget deficit-to-GDP ratio mandated by euro accords. The government has denied speculation that a supplementary budget will be needed before the autumn for IMU reform, averting a 1% hike in VAT, and pump-priming measures. Berlusconi has said his legal woes - also including a six-year conviction and life ban for paying an underage prostitute for sex - will not affect the coalition, cobbled together by the traditional foes after two months of stalemate following the February general election. Berlusconi and the PdL say he is the victim of politically motivated prosecutors. The media magnate has announced a wave of protests against the supreme court's alleged rush to justice. The court says it had to table an unusual summer sitting because one of the charges of inflating US film-rights purchases was due to expire. PD leader Guglielmo Epifani has accused the PdL of being "schizophrenic" because of the wave of about-turns in its support for the government. In a press interview Epifani said if the PdL mood swings continued it would be "better to abandon the alliance" . The PD is split on whether to ratify a ban for Berlusconi, if confirmed by the supreme court.

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