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Italian government survives confidence vote

The Italian government has comfortably survived a confidence vote. Silvio Berlusconi reversed plans to topple Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Wednesday afternoon.

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Italy's leader faces confidence vote

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta won the crucial confidence vote in the Senate on Wednesday, after Silvio Berlusconi abandoned his bid to topple the government. Of 305 senators who voted, 235 favored keeping the government and 70 opposed it.

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had backtracked from his calls to bring down the Italian government.

"We have decided to vote for confidence," Berlusconi said shortly before the vote, "not without internal disputes."

Prime Minister Letta began speaking to the Senate on Wednesday, and had planned to speak again later in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, in an attempt to muster enough support to survive a vote of confidence.

"I call for your courage and your confidence, for Italy's sake," he told lawmakers adding that Italy could be running a fatal risk. "Seizing this moment or not depends on us, on a yes or a no," he said.

His chances of winning the vote depended on dissenters within Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom (PDL), who have called on their party to back Letta.

Berlusconi, a billionaire media tycoon and three-time former premier, had called for his party to vote against the motion of confidence.

On Tuesday, however, interior minister and high-ranking PDL member Angelino Alfano said he was "firmly convinced that our party as a whole should vote confidence."

Berlusconi had broken with Prime Minister Letta's administration on Saturday after coalition allies refused to block procedures to expel him from parliament because of a tax fraud conviction in August. A court had sentenced Berlusconi to one year under house arrest or doing community service.

In February's elections, the center-left coalition led by Letta and his Democratic Party fell 20 seats short of a majority in the 321-member Senate and assumed office last spring in an awkward coalition with Berlusconi's right-wing bloc.

While teetering on political instability, Italy is also struggling to rein in its budget deficit. The unemployment rate has also returned to a record high of 12.2 percent, with youth unemployment also at a record level of 40.1 percent.

hc/mkg (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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