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Berlusconi ‘declares war’ on PM Monti

A bid to show he still carries political weight

Silvio Berlusconi at his residence, Villa Gernetto in Lesmo, near Monza, on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Silvio Berlusconi at his residence, Villa Gernetto in Lesmo, near Monza, on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Italian ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s warning that his party could withdraw its support for the government was seen by the press yesterday as a declaration of war against Prime Minister Mario Monti and a bid to show he still carries political weight.

However, analysts saw it as an empty threat made in anger which could even end up hurting Berlusconi’s centre-right party.

“In the next few days we will decide with the leadership of my party whether it is better to immediately withdraw our confidence or to keep it, given the upcoming election (in April),” Berlusconi said at a press conference on Saturday after he was sentenced to jail for tax fraud.

“We need to weigh this government policy that leads to a spiral of recession for our economy” against the way “a vote of no-confidence could be seen by the world of finance,” the 76-year-old added.

Reactions to Berlusconi’s comments were splashed across the front pages of the Italian press yesterday, with the leading Corriere della Sera saying “Berlusconi threatens to topple Monti”, while other headlines declared “Berlusconi attacks Monti” and “Berlusconi against Monti”.

“Berlusconi in his bunker has declared war on Monti and Merkel,” leftwing daily Il Fatto Quotidiano said, referring to Berlusconi’s accusation that the Italian prime minister was following policy dictated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party is the biggest in parliament, and could force early polls if it withdraws backing for Monti’s technocrat government.

But for Franco Pavoncello, a political science professor at Rome’s John Cabot university, “it was a threat by a bitter and furious man, the childish reaction of a man who is at the end of his political career”.

In fact PDL could “lose all credibility by following these sudden jolts by a man who attacks a government that he praised just... days earlier, just because he was found guilty,” added Pavoncello.

­The vice-chairman of PDL parliamentarians, Osvaldo Napoli, also sought to minimise Berlusconi’s warning, claiming that the former prime minister was just “venting” his anger and noting that “a change in direction could destabilise the party’s strategy”.

Berlusconi was on Friday sentenced to four years in jail for tax fraud and banned from holding public office.

However, the jail term was immediately cut to one year under a 2006 amnesty law aimed at reducing overcrowding in prisons – and it is unlikely Berlusconi will serve even that, given Italy’s lengthy appeals process. His lawyers have already said they will appeal, and he is considered certain to stave off any imprisonment or ban on his political activities.

The defiant ex-premier has vowed to remain in politics to reform the justice system that found him guilty. He announced last week that he would neither run in next year’s election nor seek the post of premier.

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