Rome, August 26 - Leading figures in the center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party of convicted ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi denied speculation on Monday of a party rift over his pending ouster from the Senate. "I absolutely rule it out," said PdL Lower House whip Renato Brunetta. "Anyone hoping for a break in the PdL is making a big mistake". Next month Berlusconi, who received his first-ever binding criminal conviction early this month for tax fraud, faces a vote in the Senate to ratify a ban from office. Speculation that some PdL Senators will go against the party and vote to impose the ban was fueled after a meeting of PdL bigwigs Saturday, when longtime Berlusconi loyalist and MP Daniela Santanchè said there were divisions between hawks and doves in the party. "Santanchè is wrong to use such a tone, an attitude that I do not like," said deputy Senate whip Maurizio Gasparri Monday. Nevertheless, Santanchè told la Repubblica daily Sunday that the hawks had won the debate and that the fragile left-right government of Premier Enrico Letta was "finished". The PdL has repeatedly threatened to pull its support and topple the government if Berlusconi is kicked out of office in the upcoming Senate vote.
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di Sebastiano Caspanello