Berlusconi′s Coalition on Verge of Collapse | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 13.07.2004
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Berlusconi's Coalition on Verge of Collapse

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faces a fight to keep his ruling coalition together after a junior party leader became the latest to challenge the media mogul's record.


Berlusconi took over the economics ministry when Tremonti quit

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was dragged further into the battle to stay in power on Monday as further utterances of mutiny within his coalition surfaced over his conflict of interests, his attempt to take personal control of the national finances, and plans for government reform.

Marco Follini, the leader of the Democratic Union of the Center (UDC) became the latest party leader of his three coalition partners to speak of abandoning the coalition by saying his party would leave the coalition unless a new economics minister was named by Wednesday.

Berlusconi has been filling the role himself since Giulio Tremonti resigned on July 3 and has indicated he intends to carry on until the end of the year.

But Follini has said that his party finds it unacceptable that Berlusconi has taken control of the economics ministry, which oversees Rai, the Italy's public broadcaster.

As prime minister, Berlusconi influences appointments and programming at Rai. Follini has called for the broadcaster to be made entirely independent. Berlusconi owns a private media empire.

Berlusconi reportedly issued threats

Berlusconi responded in typical fashion by telling Follini, his most junior ally: "You want to weaken my leadership in the country without understanding that without me you won't be here either," according to Italian daily La Repubblica.

Berlusconi then reportedly threatened to use his Mediaset broadcasting company to discredit Follini.

Another coalition partner, the Northern League, has threatened to follow suit if the UDC withdraws its support for Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia party. This would trigger the collapse of Berlusconi's government, leading to early elections.

The signs for Berlusconi are ominous. The Northern League brought down his first government in 1994 in a dispute over pension reforms.

Opposition calls for change

To add to the pressure, the opposition Democrats of the Left have jumped on the bandwagon to call for early elections.

"We've reached the limit," the opposition party said in a statement. "Berlusconi has not resolved the conflict of interests, the country is going through a serious crisis, and the economy is standing still. And now he threatens his allies. We need a change of government." However, Berlusconi lessened the threat to his government by having his range of income tax cuts approved by his main allies on Tuesday.

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