Alfano passes no-confidence test, govt crisis averted

Interior minister-deputy premier under fire over deportation

Alfano passes no-confidence test, govt crisis averted

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, July 19 - The Senate on Friday rejected a no-confidence motion in Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano over the deportation of the family of a Kazakh dissident. Premier Enrico Letta's left-right fragile government would have been in peril if Alfano had failed to pass the confidence test. Fifty-five Senators voted in favour of the motion against Alfano, the secretary of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party, while 226 voted against and 13 abstained. Before the vote, Letta called on Senators to reject the motion, saying it was "clear" Alfano had nothing to do with the expulsion following the results of an internal investigation. He argued that rejecting the motion was a vote of confidence in his executive, which is based on an unprecedented alliance between his centre-left Democratic Party, the biggest group in parliament, and their long-standing bitter rivals in the PdL. "We want to continue to build answers for this country," said Letta, whose cabinet was sworn in in late April after two months of political deadlock following February's inconclusive general election. "This no vote will enable the government to work in the coming weeks," he added, citing a number of urgent matters on the cabinet's agenda. Members of the left-wing SEL party and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, both of which oppose Letta's government, voted against Alfano. Several PD Senators rebelled against the party line and did not take part in the vote, even though they knew the PdL was likely to pull its support from the government if the no-confidence motion had gone through. Their failure to respect internal discipline will be discussed at what looks set to be a heated PD meeting Wednesday. "There was a no-confidence motion, it was rejected, I'm satisfied," said Alfano. Letta told the Senate that his government was not underestimating the importance of the case, saying it was a cause for "embarrassment and disrepute" for Italy. But he stressed that no one in the higher levels of government knew about the deportation until after it took place and stressed that the administration had behaved with "total transparency". Alma Shalabayeva, wife of oligarch dissident Mukhtar Ablyazov Ablyazov, and their six-year-old daughter were apprehended in a nighttime raid by Italian police late in May. They were rushed onto a private jet with Kazakh diplomats and flown back to a country whose human-rights record has been questioned by several organisations. Alfano's chief of staff at the interior ministry resigned over the scandal earlier this week. The government has revoked the deportation order and Alfano has ordered a revamp of the departments involved in the expulsion. Letta said the Kazakhstan ambassador to Rome had behaved in an "unheard-of" way by directly contacting interior ministry officials to pressure them to conduct the raid, rather than going through the proper channels at the foreign ministry. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed its concern about the case on Thursday. "The circumstances of the deportation give rise to the appearance that this was in fact an extraordinary rendition which is of great concern to us," it said. "The Italian authorities have an obligation, under international law, to provide for an effective remedy to the victim of the violation, in this case Ms. Shalabayeva and her daughter. "Given the possible serious implications of this case, we call upon both the Italian and Kazakh authorities to cooperate and reach a diplomatic agreement to facilitate the rapid return of the deportees". Foreign ministry sources said Friday that Shalabayeva and her daughter were being treated well in their homeland, adding that the woman "thanks the Italian government for what it is doing on her behalf and awaits developments on her judicial affairs". During his stints as premier Berlusconi helped foster lucrative commercial ties between Italy and energy-rich Kazakhstan. Friday's outcome may only provide temporary respite for the government. The administration is also trying to resolve tensions over demands from the PdL that it avert a 1% rise of the top band of value added tax (VAT) scheduled for later this year and scrap an unpopular property tax called IMU. The PdL has said these are deal-breaker issues but the government is struggling to find money needed in the budget, with cash tight as Italy endures its longest recession in over 20 years and Rome committed to respecting EU fiscal-consolidation targets. Furthermore, the PdL may also sink the government later this month if the supreme Court of Cassation upholds a four-year jail sentence for Berlusconi for fraud at his media empire that comes with a five-year ban from public office.

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