Berlusconi deputy defects to form new rightist party

By Frances D'Emilio in Rome

Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's political heir yesterday pledged to keep Italy's fragile coalition Government afloat, now that he has split with the media mogul and formed a rival centre-right party.

Deputy Premier Angelino Alfano also turned down Berlusconi's request to join an alliance with his shrunken centre-right power base. Instead, Alfano said, he feels compelled to go ahead with the schism "for the love of Italy".

Before Berlusconi was set back by scandals and litigation, Alfano had been groomed to succeed him. But on Saturday, Alfano announced he was splitting from Berlusconi's Forza Italia party to form his own New Centre-Right party.

Alfano, who also serves as Interior Minister in Premier Enrico Letta's coalition Government, insisted yesterday the six-month-old governing coalition would survive at least a year. Four other Cabinet ministers who defected also pledged to remain in the coalition. Albano claimed to have enough support in Parliament without Berlusconi's forces to help pass legislation to revive the economy.

"The Government will be stable," Alfano said.

Many Berlusconi loyalists have vowed to withdraw support for the Government, if the Senate votes to strip him of his seat because of his tax fraud conviction.

Alfano called the split with his political mentor "painful and bitter". But he said he made the dramatic break because the strategy of Berlusconi loyalists to pull the plug on the coalition would "precipitate the country in a situation that would only aggravate" the economic crisis.

- AP

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