Berlusconi Warns Italy Faces ‘Catastrophe’ if Government Collapses

Posted October 13th, 2011 at 11:00 am (UTC-5)
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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has warned parliament against bringing down his government in a confidence vote set for Friday, saying such an outcome would be catastrophic for the country.

In a speech to lawmakers Thursday, Mr. Berlusconi said there is no viable alternative to his center-right ruling coalition. He said the collapse of his government would trigger early elections that would not solve Italy’s financial crisis and would instead force the country into “decline” and “catastrophe.”

Prime Minister Berlusconi called the confidence motion after parliament blocked a routine budget provision on Tuesday by a one-vote margin, with several coalition lawmakers absent. He described the setback as an accident, but critics said it reflects discontent with his leadership by some members of the majority coalition.

In his speech, Mr. Berlusconi rejected calls for his resignation from an opposition that he accused of being obsessed with driving him from office. Opposition lawmakers boycotted the address, and the head of the main opposition Democratic Party, Pierluigi Bersani, called it pathetic.

But the prime minister received applause and words of support from coalition members, including Umberto Bossi, the head of his main coalition partner, the Northern League. Bossi previously had said it would be complicated for the government to survive until the next scheduled elections in 2013.

Bank of Italy governor Mario Draghi said Wednesday the Berlusconi government should act more quickly to implement economic reforms beyond an $80-billion package of tax increases and spending cuts approved by parliament last month. He warned that without stronger measures, Italy will face rising borrowing costs that will nullify the impact of the austerity measures.

Mr. Berlusconi has said the austerity program will reduce Italy’s huge public debt and balance the budget by 2013. But the tax increases and spending cuts have angered many Italians. The Italian prime minister also has seen his image tarnished by his role as a defendant in several trials on charges of bribery, tax fraud, abuse of power and paying for underage sex. He denies any wrongdoing.