Italian president Napolitano hits out at Berlusconi and threat by lawmakers to resign
Party members say they will bring down government if vote ousts ex-premier
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano issued a severe rebuke yesterday to Silvio Berlusconi and ruled out taking any action to stop his conviction for tax fraud after allies threatened to walk out of parliament over his legal problems.
Italy has lurched closer to a crisis since Berlusconi, a partner in Prime Minister Enrico Letta's coalition government, was sentenced last month to four years in prison, commuted to a year under house arrest or in community service, for tax fraud.
In an unusually strongly worded statement, Napolitano, who would have to decide whether to dissolve parliament or try to build a new coalition if the government fell, said the "disturbing" threat by Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party would undermine the functioning of parliament.
He said it would be especially worrying if its aim was to pressure him into calling new elections.
"There is still time, which I hope is used well, to find a way to express - if this is what the PdL parliamentarians want to do - their political and human empathy for the PdL president without putting at risk the functioning of the two houses of parliament," he said.
He dismissed as "absurd" Berlusconi's accusations that judges who have convicted him of tax fraud aimed at a "coup d'etat" and ruled out any intervention against the verdict by Italy's top court.
Late on Wednesday, Berlusconi's allies made their latest threat to bring down the government, saying they would resign if a special Senate committee meeting on October 4 voted to strip the 76-year-old media tycoon of his seat in the upper house.
How serious a threat the latest move presents is difficult to assess given a series of contradictory signals from Berlusconi's allies in parliament.
Maurizio Gasparri, deputy floor leader in the Senate for Berlusconi's party, now renamed "Forza Italia" (Go Italy), said the decision to resign had been "by acclamation".
However Constitutional Reform Minister Gaetano Quagliariello, a Forza Italia moderate, said the centre-right had no joint commitment to stand down. "We didn't vote for any resignation yesterday. If you're going to resign, you do it, you don't announce it," he said.