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Italy's Government on Brink of Collapse

Reuters | April 18, 2005
By Gavin Jones

ROME - Italy's government crisis showed no sign of easing Monday as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi prepared to meet President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi to tell him whether he still had a majority or intended to resign.

The future of Berlusconi's center-right government has been in doubt since the centrist Union of Christian Democrats (UDC) walked out Friday demanding major policy changes after the coalition suffered heavy losses in regional elections.

Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy) party warned Sunday that a snap general election a year ahead of schedule was the only alternative if the UDC refused to come back into the government.

"The time has come for taking responsibility ... If support is not given to Prime Minister Berlusconi's government, we will have to return to the voters," Forza Italia said in a statement.

Some newspapers reported Berlusconi would meet UDC leader Marco Follini Monday before seeing Ciampi later in the day and interpreted his party's statement as partly a game of bluff and counter-bluff as both men refuse to back down.

It seemed increasingly likely Berlusconi would be forced to resign, at least temporarily, to present a new cabinet to the president and parliament.

That would prevent him from achieving his cherished goal of leading an unprecedented full five-year term at the head of a single administration.

This was part of Follini's original demands which Berlusconi at first rejected. But as relations have worsened it looked unsure whether the UDC could be coaxed back, making snap elections as early as June a more concrete possibility.

As the crisis came to a head, Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani of Forza Italia said Monday that he would not be available in any new Berlusconi government, in protest at the "pitiful maneuvers" currently going on in the coalition.

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