Early elections in Italy could hamper recovery: president

ROME, Aug 13, 2010 (AFP) - Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano said Friday he was against early elections after a rift opened in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government coalition, as they could hamper the economic recovery.

"We have seen recent positive and encouraging signs of a productive recovery and a return to growth in Italy even as the world scenario remains difficult," Napolitano said in an interview published on left-wing daily L'Unita.

"But I wonder, what could happen to this country if we head towards a political void and towards a brutal electoral clash?" Napolitano asked.

Italy's economic output grew by 0.4 percent both in the first and second quarter of 2010, and it is expected to grow by 1.1 percent by the end of the year.

Berlusconi, 73, lost his once-comfortable parliamentary majority last month when lower house speaker Gianfranco Fini ended a 16-year alliance with him, leaving the People of Freedom (PDL) party.

Fini's supporters set up breakaway parliamentary groups of 33 deputies and 10 senators.

Napolitano acknowledged the "serious political conflict within the coalition that won the 2008 elections, within the government coalition" that has fueled speculation about possible early elections in November or in early next year.

Berlusconi has said his government will face a crucial test of strength in September in the form of a confidence vote.

If the vote brings down the government, Napolitano will poll parliamentary group leaders on the possibility of forming a transitional government, failing which he will dissolve parliament and call elections.

"My institutional responsibilities will come into play only when it becomes clear in parliament that the majority has dissolved," Napolitano said.

The president also invited Berlusconi's camp to stop calling for Fini's resignation as lower house speaker.

"It is time to end the institutionally very de-stabilising campaign that aims to take away legitimacy from the president of a branch of parliament," Napolitano said.

"It is the time to lower tones... and look at the country that needs answers to its problems rather than showdowns and threatening proclamations," he said.

Il Giornale, a daily owned by the Berlusconi family, has questioned the propriety of the sale of a house in Monaco by Fini's former party, the National Alliance, which merged with Berlusconi's Forza Italia into the PDL in 2008.

On Friday, Il Giornale devoted its first seven pages to Fini's involvment in the sale and said it had collected 50,000 signatures calling for his resignation.

Berlusconi and Fini have been at odds since a public spat in April -- largely over legislation that would help Berlusconi avoid prosecution on corruption and tax fraud charges -- ahead of their dramatic split late last month.

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