Berlusconi survives parliament no-confidence vote

Image caption,
Silvio Berlusconi - a billionaire businessman - won a third term as prime minister in 2008

Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi has survived a key no-confidence vote - his first big test since a group of MPs left his ruling centre-right coalition.

The rebel group, led by lower house speaker Gianfranco Fini, abstained from the vote instead of voting against him.

That decision kept Mr Berlusconi's government in power.

Opposition MPs had presented the no-confidence motion against junior justice minister Giacomo Caliendo, who is accused of influence-peddling.

Mr Berlusconi won the vote with 299 votes to the opposition's 229, 75 MPs abstained, news agency Agence France Presse reported.

But the abstentions by the MPs loyal to Mr Fini show Mr Berlusconi's position has been weakened, correspondents say.

Mr Berlusconi has in the past said that he is determined to stay in power until the government's term ends in 2013.

However, there has been speculation that Mr Berlusconi could call a snap election before Mr Fini has had time to build momentum as a serious rival.

Mr Fini has resisted pressure from Mr Berlusconi to quit as speaker and last week he set up a group called Future and Freedom for Italy (FLI).

Coalition split

Mr Fini has clashed with Mr Berlusconi over morality and legality in politics.

Mr Fini said politicians implicated in court cases should resign, and he also helped force Mr Berlusconi to water down a bill that sought to restrict press reporting of wiretap transcripts in judicial investigations.

Mr Berlusconi has been put on trial repeatedly for a variety of corruption charges. He has always denied wrongdoing and the charges have never stuck. Opponents accuse Mr Berlusconi of engineering legal changes to protect his own interests.

Mr Fini co-founded the People of Freedom Party (PDL) with Mr Berlusconi in March 2009. It merged Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia with Mr Fini's "post-Fascist" National Alliance. Now the PDL governs with a smaller right-wing ally, the Northern League.

Mr Fini used to be politically close to the ideology of Italy's wartime Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

But in the past decade he has shifted towards the mainstream of Italian politics and distanced himself from Mussolini's policies.

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