Rome

Berlusconi, IMU rows threaten government

Ongoing battle over tax could break fragile coalition

Berlusconi, IMU rows threaten government

By Christopher Livesay and Kate Carlisle Rome, August 26 - The ongoing row between the members of Italy's fragile left-right coalition over the controversial property tax known as IMU continues to threaten the country's stability and on Monday caused the Milan bourse to plunge 2% in early trading over fears of a government collapse. Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party repeated that it would pull the plug on the country's delicate political formation by withdrawing their support "if the (center left) does not agree to cancel IMU on all primary residences," PdL deputy Senate whip Maurizio Gasparri said. "For us the government has exhausted its mission," Gasparri said. Over the weekend bigwigs from the center right met at Berlusconi's Arcore residence outside Milan to discuss, among other things, a meeting Wednesday in the divided right-left cabinet to decide the fate of the tax. Berlusconi campaigned hard against it in February elections, where he roared to second, ultimately forcing the uncomfortable alliance with the first-place center-left Democratic Party (PD). The PdL has repeatedly threatened to pull its support and topple the government if IMU is not abolished, something Economy Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni says the country cannot afford. "We have the resources, enough waffling," countered PdL Lower House whip Renato Brunetta. "I'm sure (Premier Enrico) Letta will make the right decision. I trust him. Following the PdL powwow, Letta said creating a crisis of government over the tax would be "foolish". The issue of IMU has added to Letta's woes surrounding the conviction of Berlusconi early this month for tax fraud, his first ever binding sentence in almost 20 years of legal entanglements. While some observers say that Berlusconi may be resigned to accepting a one-year term under house arrest or performing community service as part of the supreme Cassation Court's ruling, the PdL says it cannot tolerate working in the same government with the PD if it votes next month in the Senate to uphold a ban from office for the three-time premier, stripping him of his seat in the Upper House. Letta called a snap meeting Monday with core members of his fragile coalition to discuss IMU and the ramifications of the ex-premier's possible ouster from the Senate. Joining Letta were Deputy Premier Angelino Alfano, PdL No.2, as well as Saccomanni and Regional Affairs Minister Graziano Delrio. Government sources said the meeting centered around what should be done to keep the coalition's glue from dissolving over the IMU, which the cabinet is scheduled to rule on once and for all on Wednesday.

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