Govt looks doomed amid stalemate, Berlusconi office ban

Convicted ex-premier likens cabinet to 'capsizing ship'

Govt looks doomed amid stalemate, Berlusconi office ban

(By Christopher Livesay) Rome, August 22 - The fragile coalition government looked doomed Thursday after a meeting between Premier Enrico Letta and Silvio Berlusconi's No.2, Deputy Premier Angelino Alfano, failed to produce an agreement on how to proceed following a conviction against Berlusconi for tax fraud and a pending ban from office. "They'll say it's my fault if the ministers (from my party) consider pulling government support...But if two friends are in a boat and one throws the other overboard, who's to blame if the boat tips over?" said Berlusconi in an interview with online daily Tempi. In a late-night, two-hour meeting Wednesday, Alfano told Letta, from the center-left Democratic Party (PD), that the PdL could not countenance staying in the government if the center left votes his party leader out of the Senate. The Senate, where the PD has a majority, is set to vote September 9 on stripping three-time premier and media magnate Berlusconi of his place in the upper house according to a new anti-corruption law that kicked in after his August 1 conviction for tax fraud, his first definitive sentence in almost 20 years of battles with magistrates he accuses of left-wing bias. The conviction also came with a four-year jail term, commuted to one year of house arrest or community service, something Berlusconi must decide by next month. Holding onto political power is his primary concern. "I will not accept blackmail or ultimatums," said Letta after the meeting adjourned in an apparent stalemate. Renato Schifani, the PdL's Senate whip, said Thursday the party did not "intend to pull the plug on the government," but insisted that the PD reconsider the law that would have Berlusconi ejected from parliament. The PdL claims subjecting Berlusconi to the law, passed by Mario Monti's previous government with backing from the PD and PdL, would breach the Constitution because it would allegedly be applied retroactively. Berlusconi said Thursday that "the Constitution and good sense offer many routes" for finding a "solution" to his pending ban. "If I wanted to smile, I could say that political and institutional figures can't not know that. The same applies to all of them," he added. Speaking in Rimini Thursday, Alfano appealed to the center left to reconsider their interpretation of the law, adding he was "very worried" by what he saw as "preventative justice by the PD". "There are independent legal experts, even in the cultural left, who maintain a basic principle for all democratic legal systems - that punitive, afflictive laws, both administrative and criminal, are not applied retroactively," Alfano said. "We reiterate our request to the PD". Dario Franceschini, the PD's minister for relations with parliament, slammed what he considered attempts from the the PdL to "bargain" with the stability of the government in an attempt to win favors for their leader. "To all the threats and ultimatums, just answer with this simple principle: you cannot bargain to swap lawfulness and respect for the rules in exchange for government stability. Never," he said. By midday, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano called a snap meeting with Letta, roughly 100 days after he nodded the moderate lawmaker to lead the unprecedented left-right government, conceived in April after inconclusive elections spawned two months of stalemate.

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