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Berlusconi seeks to win back rebels ahead of vote

'The numbers are not there', says rebel MP

07 November, 11:52
Berlusconi seeks to win back rebels ahead of vote (ANSA) - Rome, November 7 - Premier Silvio Berlusconi was seeking to win back party rebels and the support of wavering MPs on Monday after a key minister questioned whether he still had a majority.

The embattled prime minister returned from the Group of 20 summit in Cannes on Friday to face defections in his party amid growing unease about his handling of the economic crisis.

Berlusconi held late night talks with key allies cabinet undersecretary Gianni Letti and secretary of his People of Freedom party (PdL) Angelino Alfano on Sunday amid speculation that the opposition will provoke a confidence vote in parliament to bring down the government on Tuesday.

Two PdL deputies, Alessio Bonciani and Ida D'Ippolito, announced their decision to leave the party on Thursday as the government came under increasing pressure from the International Monetary Fund and international leaders to carry out its pledged economic reforms.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni raised further doubts about the prime minister's future on Sunday after MP Gabriella Carlucci abandoned Berlusconi's party.

"The latest news leads me to think that the majority no longer exists," Maroni, a member of the Northern League, said on a TV talk show.

"In a democracy you win and you lose".

Isabella Bertolini, one of several MPs from Berlusconi's party who last week demanded a broader ruling coalition, said on Monday if there is a confidence vote on 2010 budget measures Berlusconi will lose.

"The numbers are not there, there will be a great flight from the PdL," Bertolini said during a TV interview. Bertolini spoke about the need to enlarge the ruling majority and include the centrist Christian Democrats (UDC) in the coalition.

There are varying estimates about whether centre-right deputies will vote against Berlusconi in the vote on public finance on Tuesday. On Sunday the premier said he had "counted the numbers" and he was confident he still had a majority.

He has accused rebel MPs of "betraying" the party and the country.

The 75-year-old billionaire media tycoon has rejected calls to step down and is adamant that he is the only leader to carry through the government's proposed economic reforms.

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