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Berlusconi to make address before Senate expulsion vote

– Silvio Berlusconi will make a nationwide television address on his political future shortly before a preliminary Senate vote on Wednesday on his expulsion from parliament, aides said.

But political sources and local media said he would not use the address to torpedo the fragile left-right governing coalition of center-left Prime Minister Enrico Letta – at least for now – despite weeks of threats to do so.

Aides had earlier said the highly unpredictable media magnate would issue the video message, originally scheduled for Tuesday, at around the same time as the Senate committee begins voting at 8.30 p.m. (2:30 p.m. ET). However they later corrected this to 6 p.m. (1200 ET).

In recent days, the billionaire businessman has appeared to step back from threats to bring down the government over the Senate vote, which follows a conviction for tax fraud in early August.

Instead he is expected to resurrect his first political party, Forza Italia (Go Italy), rail against leftist judges he accuses of persecuting him and vow to remain in politics despite the conviction which will confine him to house arrest or community service for most of the next year.

He wants Forza Italia to replace the PDL in an attempt to revitalize center-right voters and appeal to young people.

However, Angelino Alfano, secretary of Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom (PDL) party, said his leader would make a final decision on the government only after the Senate vote, where Letta’s Democratic Party (PD) says it will support expulsion.

Political sources say Berlusconi appears to have listened to PDL doves, business allies and members of his family who believe sparking a crisis now could badly rebound on the center-right as well as damaging his media empire financially.

Italy is mired in its worst postwar recession and Berlusconi risks taking the blame for irresponsibly worsening the crisis if he provokes more instability over his legal problems. Polls show a large majority of Italians against snap elections.

The depth of Letta’s problems was underlined on Wednesday when a government source said the finance ministry was considering delaying the target of a balanced structural budget from 2013 to 2014.

ITALY LAGS PEERS

The euro zone’s third largest economy is lagging behind many of its peers in climbing out of recession, partly because Letta’s government is too divided to pass vital reforms.

PDL chamber of deputies floor leader Renato Brunetta said on Wednesday the coalition would collapse if the government hiked VAT sales tax, as a government source told Reuters it would probably do in October.

Financial officials are already struggling to keep Italy within EU public deficit limits after meeting PDL demands to repeal an unpopular housing tax and delaying the 1 percent VAT hike.

The Senate committee on Wednesday night is expected to reject a recommendation by a senior PDL member of the panel, Andrea Augello, to confirm Berlusconi as a senator.

It will then elect a leftist replacement for Augello – there is an anti-Berlusconi majority in the committee – who will draw up a recommendation to expel him which should be voted on by early October. After that the case goes to the full Senate for a final decision expected by mid-October.

Any of these votes could trigger a crisis although Berlusconi may be waiting until November, when he can paint it as a battle against moves by the center-left to raise taxes as part of next year’s budget discussions.

Berlusconi is also thought to be trying to find a way to blame a crisis on the fractious PD, which is in turmoil ahead of a party congress in the autumn, where charismatic Florence mayor Matteo Renzi is expected to be elected party leader.

(Additional reporting by Giuseppe Fonte, Giselda Vagnoni and Massimiliano di Giorgio; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Source: Reuters

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