Members of former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right party have issued a stern warning that they would bring down the government if their coalition allies expel the former prime minister, pictured, from parliament.
Relations between Mr Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party and Prime Minister Enrico Letta's Democratic Party (PD) are close to breaking point ahead of the vote in the Senate next month on whether to expel the 76-year-old over his tax fraud conviction.
"Early elections will be inevitable if the PD votes to remove Berlusconi and in the case that President (Giorgio) Napolitano decides that no other viable majorities exist," PDL senator Sandro Bondi said after a party summit on Saturday.
Mr Bondi, a close ally of Mr Berlusconi, said the PDL had agreed to withdraw their ministers from the government if the billionaire loses his place as a senator, and they were ready to return to elections with him as their prime ministerial candidate.
Mr Letta has warned that the collapse of the government would undermine a nascent economy recovery as Italy tries to emerge from its longest post-war recession.
He has nevertheless expressed confidence the coalition's problems can be overcome.
The premier's fragile left-right government has been racked by disagreements since the two main parties were forced to form a coalition in February.
He has been struggling to reconcile competing demands for tax cuts and job-creating measures with pledges to shore up battered public finances and cut state debt.
Another of Mr Berlusconi's loyal allies, PDL deputy Daniela Santanche, told 'La Repubblica' daily that Mr Letta's government was "finished".
"There are no alternatives to a government crisis because others have decided to deny the political feasibility of a leader that millions of Italians voted for," Ms Santanche said.