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Italy Parliament Standoff Adds to Berlusconi's Woes

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TEHRAN, April 3 (ICANA) – One minister tells parliament's speaker to "go screw yourself", another hurls his electronic ID card at opposition benches and a coalition legislator calls a wheelchair-bound colleague "stupid cripple".
Sunday, April 03, 2011 2:39:13 PM
Italy Parliament Standoff Adds to Berlusconi's Woes

Even by Italian standards, such angry scenes have raised fresh questions about how long Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government can survive and whether the only solution to a parliamentary paralysis is early elections.

"Parliament is in chaos. The president is alarmed," ran the headline in La Repubblica, echoing widespread concern in the media about how Italy can cope with a legislative block when it also has the triple crises of debt, immigration and Libya.

President Giorgio Napolitano took the unprecedented step on Thursday night of calling parliamentary leaders from major parties on the carpet to read them the riot act.

He told them the behaviour was "intolerable" and reminded them he has the power to dissolve parliament and call elections -- two years early -- if he felt the move, albeit drastic, would be for the good of the country, media reports said.

"Never before has a president had to call parliamentary leaders to the palace, line them up like school boys and wag his finger at them," political commentator Michele Ainis wrote in the Corriere della Sera. "Let's face it. Our parliamentary democracy has never been so fragile."

The poisonous exchanges this week took place as Berlusconi's centre-right government struggled to press ahead in parliament with a controversial package of judicial reforms that critics say are tailor-made to help him avoid lawsuits against him.

On Thursday, the coalition lost a procedural vote on part of the judicial package. They blamed the defeat on parliamentary speaker Gianfranco Fini, saying he stopped the vote before ministers who were outside parliament could arrive.

They accuse Fini, a former ally who left to form his own party after a highly public spat with Berlusconi last year, of not being impartial and have demanded his resignation.

 

 

TENUOUS MAJORITY

 

Since Fini walked out, Berlusconi's majority has been tenuous, making it more difficult for the prime minister to pass legislation unless every coalition member participates.

Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa, the one who told Fini to "go screw yourself" during a live TV debate -- another MP threw a newspaper at Fini -- risks seeing his voting rights suspended, which would make Berlusconi's majority even slimmer.

"The government is tripping up ever more often," said Claudio Tito, political analyst for La Repubblica.

Rosy Bindi, president of the largest leftist party, suggested the entire opposition should boycott parliament indefinitely, something which has not happened in Italy since the fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.

Even the pro-Berlusconi newspaper Il Giornale acknowledged there were serious tensions in the coalition and reported that Napolitano had gone as far as threatening to shut down parliament and call early elections.

While that is far from certain at this stage, some opposition leaders said they would welcome such a move even though the weak and fragmented opposition would not be in the best of shape to contest early polls.

"It makes no sense going on like this with (Berlusconi) concerned only about his trials. Parliament is paralysed. All we are doing is ratifying treaties ..., " said Pier Ferdinando Casini, head of the centrist UDC party and himself a former Berlusconi ally.

Casini said that technically there would be enough time to prepare for elections before the summer and another pro-Berlusconi newspaper, Libero, floated a date of June 12.

The president's intervention with parliament comes at difficult time for Berlusconi personally, for his government and for the national economy.

A tax fraud trial resumed this week and one where he is accused of paying for sex with a teenager starts next week.

The government is also struggling to deal with a growing immigration crisis the opposition says it has handled badly and given Italy another black mark internationally.

Amnesty International accused the government of "failing to meet its obligations under human rights law".

Berlusconi is due to go to Tunisia on Monday in hopes of striking a deal with the new government to stop the flow that has seen more than 20,000 illegal migrants arrive from north African shores this year alone.

On the economic front, the parliamentary stalemate comes at a time that commentators say Italy, which has one of the heaviest debt burdens in the euro zone, should be concentrating on deep-seated problems such as high youth employment.

"We risk seeing the failure of a legislature that is obsessed with itself," said Stefano Folli, a respected columnist of leading economic daily Il Sole 24 Ore. (Reuters)

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