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Key aide defies Berlusconi on trust vote

Key aide defies Berlusconi on trust vote

Rome: Silvio Berlusconi's deputy Angelino Alfano and other leading figures in his People of Freedom (PdL) party Tuesday defied him by urging MPs to back Italy's coalition government in a forthcoming confidence vote.

"I remain firmly convinced that our whole party must vote confidence in the Letta government," said Alfano, the PdL secretary and longtime Berlusconi stalwart.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta has called a confidence vote Wednesday after Berlusconi Saturday ordered his ministers - including Alfano, who was appointed interior minister in the coalition government - to quit their posts.

Berlusconi has threatened to topple the government if he was expelled from the Senate after being convicted of fraud.

Alfano's remarks came after he held tense closed-door talks with Berlusconi Monday, Italian media reported.

His plea to the party followed similar calls by other PdL politicians such as Carlo Giovanardi, a senator and former minister, who said he could muster enough party support to ensure Letta won the confidence vote.

Fabrizio Cicchitto, a senior PdL MP, said: "Making the government fall would be a mistake."

Cicchitto said any new government formed would be "hostile to the PdL" and would be a boon for Letta's centre-left Democratic Party, while elections in November would be "impractical".

The crisis erupted when Berlusconi, a three-time prime minister and media tycoon who became engulfed in legal action, attacked the government over a one percent rise in value added tax (VAT).

The mild-mannered Letta, in unusually strongly worded remarks, accused Berlusconi of using the VAT issue as an "alibi" for his own personal concerns.

He called Berlusconi's withdrawal of his five ministers from the fragile five-month-old government a "crazy and irresponsible" act" at a time when it needs to work on the budget, carry out crucial reforms and roll out measures to lift Italy out of a two-year recession.

A committee of the Senate is due to decide on Berlusconi's expulsion this week after the supreme court upheld his conviction for tax fraud and a one-year sentence to be served under house arrest or in community service.

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