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Europe

Italian government suffers downfall Berlusconi-style

The resignation of all five cabinet ministers from Berlusconi's PdL party has sparked an outcry across Italy. For Prime Minister Enrico Letta it's a new low in an already turbulent five months in office.

Despair across Italy's Sunday papers: Berlusconi's latest move was "insanity," writes La Stampa as does the business paper Il Sole 24 Ore. Like a cry for help, the Corriere della Sera asks on its front page "Moderates, where are you?". And Il Fatto Quotidiano runs a headline playing on Berlusconi's recent court sentence: "The convicted is taking Italy down."

What did go down was the governing coalition in Rome, when on Saturday, five ministers from Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party declared their resignation. In response, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Sunday announced he would seek a confidence vote from both houses of parliament on Wednesday.

Enrico Letta (photo: REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader)

Rough waters ahead for Enrico Letta

The official reason given by the PdL was their rejection of a raise of the country's VAT. "We cannot support a government that increases the tax burden for our citizens," former Prime Minister Berlusconi explained the decision.

'Irresponsible resignations'

But it seems there's something else behind the move. In July, media tycoon Berlusconi was convicted of tax fraud. Coming Friday, the senate will have to decide whether Berlusconi will be able to retain his seat despite the court conviction. The PdL seems to be trying to prevent that vote in order to ensure Berlusconi's political survival. It certainly would make a nice birthday present for their party chief who this past Sunday turned 77.

"It's an insane and irresponsible move," according to Enrico Letta. His criticism was joined by his party colleague Guglielmo Epifani, chairman of the Democratic Party. "Once again the fate of one single man is put above the interests of the entire country," he said.

A turbulent past five months

For Letta it's a low point in an already turbulent time in office. Only five months ago, the politician had made a big step forward when President Giorgio Napolitano surprisingly called upon him to head the coalition to lead the country out of the crisis.

Berlusconi (photo: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi)

Berlusconi wants to remain in politics no matter what

Yet already the start of the new government seemed to be marked by misfortune. As the cabinet was sworn in, a mentally ill Italian fired shots outside the government building in Rome; two policemen and one bystander were injured.

The following months were a constant up and down. The minister for equal opportunity and sports, Josefa Idem had to step down over irregularities in her tax declaration. A few weeks later, Minister for the Interior Angelino Alfano made headlines and had to face a vote of confidence after the wife and daughter of Kazakh dissident Muktar Ablyazov was deported.

An uncertain future

Berlusconi too kept popping up in the headlines - although he was not part of the cabinet he still was in charge of Letta's junior coalition partner, the PdL. So far his numerous court cases have resulted in one conviction for tax fraud with several other cases still pending.

Italyis going through its deepest recession in post war history and is heavily in debt. It needs a strong government, ready to push reforms and get the debt problem under control. Berlusconi is hoping for new elections, the sooner the better. President Napolitano though seeks to prevent that, saying he would only dissolve parliament if there is no other option left.

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