Silvio Berlusconi furious as lieutenant forms breakaway party
Silvio Berlusconi hit out at members of his centre-right party who want to "murder" him politically as an internal split provoked the scandal-tainted ex-premier's ire yesterday.
Following late-night talks, Berlusconi's former right-hand man Angelino Alfano announced he would not remain at the side of his one-time mentor and would form a separate parliamentary grouping instead.
Berlsuconi responded furiously at a meeting held by his People of Freedom (PDL) party in Rome, saying the move was tantamount to political assassination and against the spirit of the "coalition of moderates", referring to his centre-right group of deputies.
"It is very difficult to be united in parliament and to sit at the same table ... with people who want to murder the leader of their party politically," he said.
Alfano's faction, called the "New Centre Right", could lure away about a third of PDL's deputies in the parliament and the senate, it was reported yesterday.
"I am here to make a choice that I never thought I would make - not to join Forza Italia," Alfano said late on Friday, referring to Berlusconi's project to relaunch the PDL under the name it carried when the mogul was first elected to parliament in 1994.
Alfano, 43, said he made the decision because "these past few weeks have shown to what extent extreme forces have prevailed within our movement", referring to a belief that Berlusconi was pandering to hardliners.
Berlusconi's party has been in turmoil since the former premier tried to bring down the government by pulling his ministers out of the cabinet at the end of September, and was forced into a humiliating climbdown when they refused to heed his orders.
The billionaire said Alfano's split was due to "differences not of policy or values but between personalities who have created a poisonous atmosphere".
In a conciliatory gesture 77-year-old Berlusconi added, however, that Alfano's grouping would be a "necessary member" of his centre-right voting bloc, with Forza Italia at its head.
The flamboyant tycoon on November 27 faces the prospect of being stripped of his parliament seat when the senate votes whether to eject him under a law banning convicted criminals.
Italy's supreme court turned down his final appeal in a tax fraud case on August 1.