Berlusconi allies quit Italian cabinet
Ultimatum by the prime minister unacceptable, party of disgraced media mogul says
All ministers from former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right party resigned from the coalition government yesterday, said a spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano.
Berlusconi had earlier told ministers from his People of Freedom (PDL) party to consider stepping down in protest at Prime Minister Enrico Letta's order to freeze all decisions ahead of a confidence vote in parliament.
"The ultimatum sent by the prime minister and his Democratic Party at their government allies ... seems inadmissable and unacceptable," Berlusconi said in a statement.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta had asked for parliament to express support for the government this week in a bid to end a crisis that has driven the bickering coalition to the brink of collapse.
Letta summoned the cabinet on Friday to determine whether the media mogul's lawmakers still backed the five-month-old government, which is struggling to pull Italy out of a stubborn recession.
Nearly all of Berlusconi's senators have vowed to quit if a Senate committee votes this week to strip him of his seat because of the conviction, upheld on August 1 by Italy's top court.
"I am unwilling to go on without this step of clarification" of support, Letta told the cabinet. "Effective government action is clearly incompatible with mass resignations of a parliamentary group that should be supporting this very government. Either [the government] is relaunched, and the country and the interests of the citizens come first, or we pull the plug" on the government, Letta was quoted as saying.
Government paralysis over Berlusconi's political fate could be costly. The cabinet had been expected to find other revenue so it can avoid raising the sales tax amid the sagging economy. Instead, the whole session was dedicated to how the government might survive, and no economic measures were approved.
Regional Affairs Minister Graziano Delrio said after leaving the 21/2-hour cabinet meeting that Letta would put his government to a confidence vote in parliament after laying out his policies in a speech. No date was set for the confidence vote.
Italians voted in February in parliamentary elections whose inconclusive results led to weeks of political haggling.
Letta told his cabinet he would not tolerate "threats and ultimatums". He said it was "unacceptable" that on Wednesday, while he was in New York representing Italy at the United Nations General Assembly, the pro-Berlusconi senators vowed to quit en masse.
Berlusconi's conviction carried a four-year prison sentence, although because of his age - he turns 77 today - and another law, he will only have to serve one year and may do so at home.