Berlusconi faces vote of confidence
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Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi undergoes a crucial vote of confidence today which could bring down the Italian leader. Berlusconi has already survived an earlier vote on Tuesday in the Senate with 162 senators in favour out of 308 votes cast, but he faces a much tougher fight in the hotly-contested Chamber of Deputies, the lower house.
The confidence vote follows a bitter split within the ruling coalition earlier this year after a rebellion by his one-time loyal ally Gianfranco Fini. Fini, the speaker of parliament, was joined by some 40 lawmakers.
While members of parliament debated the vote, thousands of anti-Berlusconi protestors gathered in Rome to demand a change of government. A heavy police presence has blocked the route to the parliament building.
Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by Berlusconi's brother, has forecast a win for the prime minister by 314 votes in favour to 308 against. La Repubblica, a leftist daily critical of his government, predicts the vote will be very close with 313 votes against and 312 votes for.
The Sentate vote did not come as a surprise. The prime minsiter has a safe majority in the Senate, but he has been weakened by a string of scandals in recent years as well as the defection of close allies.
On Monday, Berlusconi appealed to Fini's supporters calling on them to show responsibility. He has warned that his ousting could created instability for Italy on turbulent eurozone financial markets,
Italy has the highest public debt in the eurozone, with official estimates saying it will reach 118.5 per cent of gross domestic product this year.
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