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Rift with Fini puts pressure on govt

Ministers at work to deflate risk of possible crisis

23 April, 17:54
Rift with Fini puts pressure on govt (ANSA) - Rome, April 24 - The rift between Premier Silvio Berlusconi and House Speaker Gianfranco Fini, aired during a public shouting match at a party meeting, will have no fallout on the government, Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno said on Friday.

Speaking to reporters after talks with Berlusconi, Alemanno - who over the last few days made an unsuccessful bid to patch up their differences - said he "was convinced" there would be "no repercussions" on the government.

But he warned that the Premier's People of Freedom (PdL) party would "have to reflect on how to come out" of the crisis.

The PdL was officially founded last year by the merging of Fini's right-wing National Alliance (AN) and Berlusconi's Forza Italia (FI), after the two parties ran on a single ticket to win the April 2008 general elections.

But long-standing differences between the two blew up at a key party meeting on Thursday when Berlusconi told Fini to resign as Speaker if he wants a more active role in politics and to form his own faction within the PdL.

At that point, Fini got up and yelled: "What are you saying? Otherwise, what will you do? Throw me out?" The shouting match prompted Berlusconi's coalition partner, Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, to blast the premier for not ousting Fini a long time ago.

"We're facing a a vertical collapse of the government and probably the end of the alliance between the PDL and the Northern League", Bossi told the League daily La Padania.

But Alemanno urged Bossi and the League to have a bit of patience.

"The only thing I ask Bossi and the League is to let us solve the problem. This is the PdL's problem and we'll solve it ourselves.. leave us to it".

Senate Speaker Renato Schifani also tried to allay fears, saying that a document approved by the assembly at the PdL meeting would allow dissenters a say as long as they accepted to back decisions voted by the majority in party caucuses.

If Fini's dissenters don't vote against the government in parliament, Schifani said he didn't expect "any trauma for the majority or the government's work".

"In any case, we'll have to wait and see".

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Estonia that the public clash between Berlusconi and Fini had in fact "cleared things up".

"Berlusconi came out stronger while those who wanted to weaken him didn't achieve their aim".

"I don't think so," said Frattini when asked if he saw the government's collapse and early elections ahead.

But opposition leader Pierluigi Bersani called the tit-for-tat exchange between Fini and Berlusconi "a disgraceful show".

"It was an incredible row...which wouldn't have happened in any other European party," he told left-leaning daily L'Unita', voicing fears for the "country's stability".

Addressing workers in Genoa, the leader of the Democratic Party accused the government of having done nothing other than "make small talk and spout propaganda" over the last two years.

Centrist opposition MP Rocco Buttiglione, a former minister in a previous Berlusconi government, said the premier "had been a problem for Italian democracy for the last 15 years".

FINI FUMING OVER LEAGUE'S INCREASING POWER IN COALITION. The Speaker is fuming over the clout that the Northern League, which snatched two governorships in last month's regional elections, now wields on the government's agenda.

He has repeatedly distanced himself from the League and Berlusconi on a number of issues since the centre-right coalition swept to power in general elections two years ago.

His recent and more centrist stances on these issues, including voting rights for immigrants and criticism of the government's reliance on confidence votes to push its bills through parliament, have placed him at loggerheads with many ex-FI MPs as well as the League.

He has also accused Berlusconi of running the PdL as if it were a "barracks".

Bossi told La Padania daily that Fini was "jealous and resentful of the League's repeated successes" while doing "nothing except to attempt to wreck what we have created," by reneging on pre-electoral agreements.

Bossi said Fini had undermined the coalition and worked for the centre-left opposition by "pretending to create while actually demolishing" the government's programme.

"Thanks to him the centre left will win the next elections".

Fini is against the League's pet project of fiscal federalism and is "clearly against the north and for the south" where he has popular support, said Bossi.

The outspoken Northern League leader said it was obvious that the coalition could no longer guarantee its pledge to work for federalist and constitutional reforms.

Speaking to ANSA on Friday Bossi said he was patient and in favour of mediation but his supporters were "very angry" and would not stand for it.

"I've been bombarded with phone calls by people who can no longer put up with these soap operas, this shilly-shallying and these delays".

"We want reforms, my people want them and I have to do what the grass roots wants. People are fed up," he added.

Bossi said he didn't want to "stoke the fire but people in the north are totally fed up. All you have to do is hear what people say on the street".

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