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The People of Freedom

Former PM Silvio Berlusconi has relaunched Forza Italia (Go Italy) party as his People of Freedom (PDL) party split between his supporters.

“I am happy that we have returned to this name, the one we all still have in our hearts: Forza Italia,” Silvio Berlusconi said at a party conference in Rome before hundreds of delegates, who voted unanimously to the name change of the party with the 77-year-old leader again at its helm.

Silvio Berlusconi supporter, Senator Vincenzo Gibiino, said: “Forza Italia is reborn thanks to Berlusconi who has decided to throw himself into the fray for all our sakes.”

At least 250 delegates, however, were not present. This faction, led by former PDL deputy leader Angelino Alfano, previously said they would not attend the PDL party conference, announcing the formation of breakaway party called Nuovo centrodestra (New Centre Right).

Silvio Berlusconi has relaunched Forza Italia party as his People of Freedom party split between his supporters

Silvio Berlusconi has relaunched Forza Italia party as his People of Freedom party split between his supporters

Composed of between 56 and 60 parliamentarians, the Alfano group would be large enough to ensure the survival of the prime minister‘s government should Berlusconi supporters drop out of the ruling coalition under the leadership of centre-left PM Enrico Letta.

At the centre of PDL split is how the party would react to the possible expulsion of Berlusconi from parliament over a tax fraud conviction.

The possibility of parliamentary expulsion, the decision for which is to take place on November 27, is seen as likely because the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the PDL‘s main coalition partner, is unwilling to let the scandal-prone politician keep his seat.

On Saturday, Silvio Berlusconi repeated his allegation that it was impossible for his party to remain in parliament with people who wanted the death of the one of the party‘s leaders.

The Alfano group, however, has argued the good of the country necessitated the continuance of the Letta government.

Negotiations within the PDL to prevent a party split continued until the last minute, with Alfano demanding in addition to remaining in the governing coalition an increase of democracy within the party and other issues.

In a 30-minute-long speech, Silvio Berlusconi appeared to signal his readiness to enter the opposition, criticizing the Letta government, accusing it of failed economic policies and lacking political will within Europe.

Silvio Berlusconi thundered against taxes and maintained that when he was head of government, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French former president Nicolas Sarkozy never liked him because he had “the experience and the will to say no to many of their suggestions.”

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Italy’s Prime Minister Enrico Letta has won a confidence vote after a last-minute U-turn by former PM Silvio Berlusconi.

Silvio Berlusconi had initially promised to topple the government by withdrawing his party’s support – a move which prompted the Senate vote.

But he backed down when it became clear that several of his senators would back the government.

Enrico Letta had earlier said that if he were defeated in the vote, it might prove a “fatal risk” for Italy.

In the event he won easily: the Senate voted 235 to 70 in favor of the government.

Some of Silvio Berlusconi’s most hardline followers left the chamber and did not vote at all.

The result of the vote increases the possibility of Silvio Berlusconi being thrown out of the Senate on the grounds he is a convicted criminal.

Enrico Letta has won a confidence vote after a last-minute U-turn by former PM Silvio Berlusconi

Enrico Letta has won a confidence vote after a last-minute U-turn by former PM Silvio Berlusconi

On Friday a Senate committee is due to vote on whether to strip him of his seat following his conviction for tax fraud.

As he left the Senate building on Wednesday, people outside greeted him with catcalls, whistles and cries of “go away”.

Last weekend, Silvio Berlusconi demanded that five ministers from his centre-right People of Freedom party (PDL) leave the government and bring it down.

But Silvio Berlusconi’s close ally Renato Schifani insisted he had not been weakened by the vote, telling Italian news agencies that his leadership “has been strengthened”.

When he rose to speak in the Senate to announce his turnaround, Silvio Berlusconi said: “Italy needs a government that can produce structural and institutional reforms. We have decided, not without internal travail, to back the confidence vote.”

The Milan stock exchange gained nearly 2% on the announcement.

In his address to the Senate, Enrico Letta defended his government’s performance and said Italy “runs a risk, a fatal risk” if it were to fall.

He said: “Give us your confidence to realize [our] objectives. Give us your confidence for all that has been accomplished… a confidence vote for Italy and Italians.”

Silvio Berlusconi had accused Enrico Letta of allowing his “political assassination through judicial means” – a reference to Berlusconi’s criminal conviction for tax fraud in August.

The former prime minister said he asked his ministers to defy the government to protest against an impending rise in VAT, not because of the attempts to throw him out of the Senate.

Enrico Letta accused Silvio Berlusconi of using the VAT issue as an “alibi” for his own personal concerns.

He refused to accept the resignation of the five PDL ministers and hence called the vote of confidence.

Silvio Berlusconi’s plan to bring the government down began to unravel when the ministers signaled their own unwillingness to leave the government, and even his deputy and party secretary, Angelino Alfano, said that PDL members should back Enrico Letta.

Analysts say the crisis threatened to hamper badly needed reforms to tackle Italy’s economic problems that include debt, recession and high youth unemployment.

Enrico Letta’s cross-party alliance was formed in April after two months of political deadlock following an inconclusive election.

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