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Italy PM takes crisis to parliament

Source BBC News@

Italian PM Enrico Letta (left) and President Giorgio Napolitano. File photoPresident Napolitano (right) called for political continuity in the country

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta is to go to parliament to seek a way out of the crisis engulfing his coalition government.

The move was announced after Mr Letta had talks with President Giorgio Napolitano.

Relations between Mr Letta's centre-left grouping and ex-PM Silvio Berlusconi's party have reached rock bottom.

Berlusconi pulled his five ministers out of the administration on Saturday.

But those ministers have now given mixed signals as to whether they are actually leaving the government.

After meeting the PM, President Napolitano said the rebel ministers' equivocation had led to a "climate of evident uncertainty regarding possible developments".

Because of that, Mr Letta would go before parliament to see "what could be done."

President Napolitano is trying to bring about the formation of a new coalition without calling elections.

"The President of the republic dissolves the parliament only in case there is no chance of finding a pmajority and therefore a new government in the interest of the country," he said before Sunday evening's meeting.

The crisis follows weeks of worsening ties between Berlusconi's party and Mr Letta's centre-left grouping.

The PDL is objecting to a planned increase in sales tax, which is part of wider government policy to reduce big public debts.

Berlusconi had already threatened to withdraw his ministers if he was expelled from the Senate for tax fraud.

The current coalition government was put together after inconclusive elections in February, and the latest developments cast a further shadow over Italy's struggling economy, the eurozone's third-largest.

It is feared that the crisis could hamper efforts to enact badly-needed reforms to tackle Italy's economic problems, including debt, recession and high youth unemployment.

The International Monetary Fund has warned that coalition tensions represent a risk to the Italian economy.

'Grave violation'

Italy is now in very uncertain political terrain, and at times like this its head of state becomes a hugely important figure, the BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome reports.

Mr Letta, of the centre-left Democratic Party, warned late on Friday that he would quit unless his coalition cabinet won a confidence vote due next week.

Silvio Berlusconi's trials

  • Accused of having paid for sex with an underage prostitute and of abuse of power for asking police to release her when she was arrested for theft

  • Convicted of tax fraud in case focusing on the purchase of the TV rights to US films by his company, Mediaset

  • Acquitted in several other cases; also convicted in several, only to be cleared on appeal; others expired under statute of limitations

But Berlusconi pre-empted that, describing Mr Letta's comments as "unacceptable". He later said all five ministers of his People of Freedom (PDL) party were resigning.

However, most of the five ministers appeared to challenge the former prime minister's order to leave the coalition.

"I thoroughly understand his state of mind, but I cannot justify or share the strategy," said health minister Beatrice Lorenzin. Reforms minister Gaetano Quagliarello and transport minister Maurizio Lupi also appeared reluctant to pull out of the cabinet.

"We want to stay with Berlusconi but not his poor advisers," Mr Lupi said.

Enrico Letta had responded angrily to Saturday's resignations, accusing the PDL leader of telling Italians a "huge lie" in using the sales tax as an "alibi" for his own personal concerns.

"In parliament, everyone will have to assume responsibility for their actions before the nation."

Berlusconi's legal problems are seen as a cause of much of the tension inside the coalition.

A committee of the Senate is due to decide this week if he should be expelled after the Supreme Court recently upheld his conviction for tax fraud.

It was his first conviction to be confirmed on appeal in two decades of fighting legal cases.

Berlusconi was sentenced to a year in jail, but is expected to serve house arrest or community service because of his age.

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