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Dissidents in PdL meet to discuss new party

Widening cracks threaten Berlusconi's sway after confidence vote

02 October, 18:45
Dissidents in PdL meet to discuss new party (ANSA) - Rome, October 2 - Having helped to save Italy's fragile coalition government Wednesday afternoon, dissidents from ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party turned their attention to their own futures and whether to form their own breakaway organization in the Italian parliament.

A meeting called for Wednesday night among the PdL dissidents was expected to debate creating new groups in the Senate and House – the subject of much discussion in recent days as it became clear PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano had shifted from his ultra-loyalty to Berlusconi and disapproved of moves to bring down Premier Enrico Letta's government.

Alfano, who has been serving as deputy premier and interior minister in the coalition cabinet, has been rumoured to be a potential leader of the dissident group after he encouraged the resounding confidence vote that saved Letta's coalition.

However, Alfano was quiet Wednesday after the vote, leaving other PdL senior officials to comment on planning for a new political group.

"The group will be independent," said Roberto Formigoni, a PdL Senator and supporter of a new movement.

But others were playing down the prospect.

Gaetano Quagliariello, another PdL senator and Letta's constitutional affairs minister, said he knew nothing about such a plan.

"It's an initiative of parliamentarians I do not know," he said flatly.

And Nunzia De Girolamo, agriculture minister, was even less enthusiastic.

"I remain in the PdL," she told reporters, stating she had no intention of joining any splinter group.

PdL Senate Whip Renato Schifani told reporters that he is "firmly opposed to a diaspora" in his party.

And similar Berlusconi loyalists were moving quickly Wednesday to sign a document confirming their support for the PdL and a revamped Forza Italia party, the media tycoon's first party which he relaunched for the next elections last week.

This increased speculation the PdL could break in two, with a bigger and more hardline force, Forza Italia, led by Berlusconi, and a smaller and more moderate one, headed by Alfano under the PdL banner, seen as more in touch with the European People's Party (EPP), the centre-right bloc the PdL belongs to in the European Parliament.

There has been talk that about 30 PdL senators could break away and form a group with tighter links to the EPP, some of whose members have fretted about Berlusconi's presence. The dissidents within the PdL have been unhappy with Berlusconi's order that they should vote no-confidence in Letta's fragile government, which was cobbled together in April to end two months of deadlock after February's general election failed to produce a clear winner.

Another senior PdL figure, the party's former Lower House whip Fabrizio Cicchitto, said Tuesday that the decision to withdraw the party's ministers from government was a mistake.