Rome

Napolitano cools talk of government crisis

Berlusconi party's threats to sink executive abate for now

Napolitano cools talk of government crisis

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, September 6 - Talk of an imminent crisis for Premier Enrico Letta's grand-coalition government cooled on Friday following an intervention from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party has been threatening to sink the government should its foe-turned-ally, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), vote to eject the centre-right leader from the Senate after the supreme court upheld a tax-fraud conviction against him last month, making it definitive. Senior PdL members have said it will be impossible for them to stay allied with Letta's PD if the centre-left party makes good its stated intention to vote against three-time premier Berlusconi. A Senate panel will start examining the case Monday and is expected to reach its conclusions soon, unless an appeal by Berlusconi to the Constitutional Court is admitted. A full Senate vote is required to make the ban effective but the PdL says it will not come to that if the PD votes against Berlusconi on the panel. The threats abated somewhat on Friday after Napolitano on Thursday called on the PD and PdL to avert a crisis, saying it would be "highly dangerous" as Italy strives to emerge from a crippling depression and retain hard-regained international status. "The health of the government is better than it was 48 hours ago," Constitutional Reform Minister Gaetano Quagliariello, a PdL member, said Friday. Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Angelino Alfano, who is also the PdL secretary, said Napolitano was right to trust Berlusconi not to bring down the executive. Letta's unprecedented left-right government, forced into existence by Napolitano in April after a two-month post-election stalemate, had been "strongly wanted" by Berlusconi while the PD was vainly trying to enlist the support of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), Alfano recalled. The minister also dismissed speculation the PD might be able to put together a new majority with M5S defectors and some conservatives fed up with Berlusconi's litany of legal woes, which also include a conviction for sex with an underage prostitute and OKing the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap against a previous centre-left leader. "I feel I can rule out that Letta is working on plans or solutions alternative to this majority, and he has said that several times," said Alfano. Letta tried not to be drawn into commenting on the potential crisis when speaking to reporters at the G20 summit in St Petersburg Friday. But he did say that the international community wanted stability in Rome. "There's lots of interest in Italy, that Italy plays a role and there is stability," Letta said. "There's a need for a stable Italy in political, financial and economic terms". Berlusconi risks losing his parliamentary seat under the terms of an anti-corruption law approved in 2012, which bans anyone with a conviction like the three-time premier's from holding office for six years. The PdL claims the law is being applied retroactively in Berlusconi's case, although it became effective before his definitive four-year conviction for fraud on film rights for his Mediaset empire on August 1. The PdL says the offences for which Berlusconi was convicted took place before the law was passed, and so it is being applied retroactively, which they say is against the Italian Constitution. The PD has dismissed arguments from jurists sympathetic to the PdL as "quibbling" and says the law must be applied to Berlusconi as it would be to anyone else. Berlusconi has appealed to Italy's Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights against the ban from the tax-fraud conviction, which he blames, like his many other cases, on persecution by magistrates he says are left-wing.

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