Berlusconi unmoved by call to quit for Italy's sake
PLAGUED by a slew of sex scandals, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi steadfastly refused to resign last night, turning a deaf ear to pleas to "go for the good of the country".
His most bitter political rival turned the screw even tighter yesterday and urged him to resign for the good of Italy and start negotiations to form a new centre-right government.
Lower house speaker Gianfranco Fini -- a co-founder of Berlusconi's PDL party who was expelled last July -- said members of his new Future and Freedom party would support a new Berlusconi-led government only if the prime minister agreed to certain conditions.
Speaking to a rally of his new party in central Italy, Mr Fini said the conditions would include a new programme to help the south of the country and boost employment, and a reform of electoral law.
"We need a new agenda, a new programme; the centre-right that existed when the PDL was founded does not exist any more," he said.
If Mr Berlusconi did not agree to the conditions, members of Mr Fini's party would resign from the government, he added. One minister, a deputy minister and two undersecretaries are members of Mr Fini's party.
"If Berlusconi wants to show his love for the country. . . the right thing to do is for him to resign, trigger a crisis and start a new phase in which the centre-right programme and agenda is quickly re-discussed," he said.
Italy has been transfixed for days by the story of a teenage nightclub dancer known as Ruby -- whose real name is Karima Keyek -- who received €7,000 from Mr Berlusconi after attending a party at his private villa near Milan earlier this year.
The prime minister has shrugged off a storm of criticism over the incident, stoking outrage in his trademark provocative style by remarking, "it's better to like beautiful girls than to be gay".
Mr Berlusconi has survived previous scandals over parties and prostitutes and he insists that he will remain in office until his term ends in 2013, despite coming under fire from groups as diverse as Catholic bishops and gay rights advocates.
Most recently, Nadia Macri, a 28-year-old aspiring model and "television showgirl", alleged that Mr Berlusconi payed her more than $14,000 (€10,000) for sex, according to British newspaper the 'Daily Telegraph'.
Ms Macri also alleged that marijuana was available on the PM's private jet.
Infrastructure Minister Altero Matteoli said Mr Berlusconi had no intention of resigning because a government crisis would be a "shot in the dark".
Mr Fini urged Mr Berlusconi "not to listen to the bad advice of which he has been getting a lot recently" and to start negotiations for a new centre-right government that would aim to last until the end of the current legislature in 2013.
"The government no longer has its pulse on the feelings, fears and hopes of the country," Mr Fini told the rally.
Political commentators said Mr Berlusconi would be loath to resign because if he was unable to form a new government after stepping down he would have to move aside and let someone else from the centre-right try.
In a speech that lasted more than 90 minutes, Mr Fini made several allusions to Mr Berlusconi's recent private problems, saying Italy's image in the world right now was less than stellar, and speaking of "moral decay".