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Italy's coalition in jeopardy following Berlusconi's conviction

The future of Italy’s coalition has been plunged into uncertainty following the tax fraud conviction of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. This could scupper efforts to reduce the country’s large public deficit.

Members of Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom party (PdL) threatened to resign from the government following a meeting with the convicted media mogul in Rome on Friday.

"We are ready to resign to defend our ideal," the AFP news agency quoted Interior Minister Angelino Alfano as saying after the meeting.

However, Senator Lucio Malan suggested the outcome was still open.

"They entrusted their mandates to Berlusconi...We agreed to decide what to do in the coming days," Malan told reporters.

However, Reuters quoted an unnamed source who attended the meeting as saying that Berlusconi was threatening to pull out of the government if a specific demand wasn't met.

"If there is no reform of the justice system, we are ready for new elections," the source quoted the former premier as saying.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who heads an uneasy coalition between his center-left Democratic Party (PD) and the PdL, appealed for calm "for the good of Italy."

At the same time, though, he seemed to indicate that there were limits to how far he might go to keep his government afloat.

"I do not believe that continuing at any cost is in the interests of the country," said Letta, who has been leading efforts to implement economic reforms aimed at reducing Italy's massive debt and breathing new life into its stagnant economy.

Railing against the judiciary

All this came a day after the 76-year-old Berlusconi used a televised speech to rail against a ruling by Italy's top court, which upheld a previous decision convicting him of tax fraud and handing him a four-year jail term.

"It's hard to understand the violent attacks that have been bestowed upon me, with a series of charges and processes," the billionaire said.

However, due in part to his age, it appears Berlusconi will not actually serve any jail time. He could instead be forced to spend a year under house arrest, or doing community service.

Thursday's ruling marked the first time that he has received a definitive conviction and sentence. He had previously faced a series of fraud and bribery charges during his two decades in politics, but all of those had been overturned on appeal or expired under the statute of limitations.

pfd/jr (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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