Letta vows to press on amid turmoil over Berlusconi

PD and PdL continue to squabble after ex-premier's fraud verdict

Letta vows to press on amid turmoil over Berlusconi

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, August 8 - Premier Enrico Letta said Thursday that his government was "determined" to press on, amid ongoing turmoil between the parties supporting his left-right executive after the supreme court upheld Silvio Berlusconi's tax-fraud conviction last week. Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party wants ways to find ways to make it possible for the ex-premier to continue to be active in politics even though a 2012 anti-corruption law makes people who have received definitive criminal convictions ineligible to run in future elections or hold public office. Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD), however, has called on Berlusconi to accept the four-year prison sentence - three years of which have been commuted because of an amnesty - and step back from the political fray. Berlusconi's party has warned that this stance is threatening the survival of the unnatural alliance between the traditional foes in the PD and the centre-right PdL, which gave life to Letta's administration in April to end two months of deadlock after February's inconclusive general election. Letta told a press conference when asked about the turmoil that his government's response was to "work with great determination". The premier has previously said it would be a "crime" for its government to collapse as it works to pull Italy out of what he described as the worst economic crisis today's generations have experienced. But he has also stressed that he will not stay at the helm of power at all costs and will quit if the turbulence makes it impossible for him to govern. Tension soared after PD Secretary Guglielmo Epifani said there were "no other roads" but for Berlusconi to "accept the sentence and the effects it produces" in a newspaper interview published Wednesday. Former PD President Rosy Bindi backed that stance Thursday, saying the PdL should not use the government as a tool to win concessions for Berlusconi. "The Letta government was not created to make peace (with the centre right)," she told Rome-based daily La Repubblica. "Those who think the grand coalition serves to absolve Berlusconi and grant him a political safe-conduct are not our partners. "This government is useful if it does things the Italian people need, if it does good for the country". The PdL says the line is putting the government in peril. "We in he PdL are working so that the government moves forward, but there has to be the same conviction in the PD," said Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi, a PdL member. "They have to clearly tell us whether they want to continue to be part of this project or not. "Epifani's statements are a provocation but we don't want to bite. The PdL is united in its support of Berlusconi and of the government". Berlusconi and his supporters say last week's verdict is the result of a campaign of persecution by left-wing elements in the judiciary that started when the billionaire embarked on a political career two decades ago. PdL Senate whip Renato Schifani and House whip Renato Brunetta met President Giorgio Napolitano on Monday to discuss ways to make it possible for three-time premier Berlusconi to stay active in politics after the sentence comes into effect in October. Napolitano is taking time to consider the situation. There have been calls from some PdL figures, including Brunetta, for Napolitano to grant Berlusconi a pardon, although this appears unlikely for many reasons. These include the fact that Berlusconi is appealing against two other criminal convictions, a seven-year sentence for paying for sex with an underage prostitute and a one-year term for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap. It may also be seen as a delegitimisation of the judiciary if Napolitano grants a pardon soon after the supreme court of Cassation's ruling. Berlusconi is not in danger of actually going to prison, as he is over 70 and will be given the option of serving the remaining year of the sentence under house arrest or doing community service.

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