Berlusconi insists government will last full term, despite infighting, troubles in coalition

ROME (AP) — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi insisted Friday that his government would serve out the remaining three years of its term, despite mounting infighting and trouble within his coalition.

In a defiant and defensive statement on his party's website, Berlusconi said his government was hard at work modernizing the country, fighting cancer, bailing out Greece, nabbing mobsters and reforming the justice system.

"I believe that there should be no doubts about the stability of our government for the next three years," he wrote. "We will proceed on the path of reforms without any delays caused by counterproductive in-house discussions."

His statement came after a Cabinet minister faced calls to resign after he became implicated in a judicial probe and another party member quit a high-profile job in parliament, accusing Berlusconi of seeking to silence dissent.

This came a week after Berlusconi publicly feuded with his one-time political ally, Gianfranco Fini, a popular politician who co-founded the People of Freedom party with Berlusconi.

During a party convention last week, Fini and Berlusconi got into an unprecedented public spat in front of their supporters and TV cameras. They pointed fingers at one another, made venomous remarks, interrupting one another in an outburst that has been replayed countlessly on Italian television.

At the heart of the dispute is Fini's claim that his demands and proposals are overlooked and that Berlusconi is more sensitive to the demands of another government ally, the Northern League.

While the stability of Berlusconi's 2-year-old government is not at immediate risk, the infighting has exposed rifts and raised the possibility of an early election in 2011 — which would be two years ahead of schedule.

"The majority party lives in a climate of mutual suspicion," Stefano Folli, a leading Italian analyst, wrote in Friday's editions of Il Sole 24 Ore.

"The legislature is worn out," he said, and "certainly the increasing deterioration of political relations favors its dissolution. Not immediately, but in the not-so-distant future."

Fresh questions about the government's stability came Friday, when Industry Minister Claudio Scajola faced calls to resign after news reports said he was cited in a broader investigation into the dealings of a Rome businessman.

Prosecutors allege that Scajola failed to report the real price of an apartment he bought near the Colosseum with the help of the businessman, according to the reports.

Scajola has denied wrongdoing, and on Friday he received the solidarity of the government during a Cabinet meeting, according to fellow minister Ignazio La Russa.

In the Fini spat, Berlusconi accuses Fini of not being a loyal ally.

The premier says Fini, who is currently serving as speaker of the lower house of parliament, should remain above the political fray.

Their public dispute was rekindled this week when a close aide to Fini, Italo Bocchino, quit his job as deputy whip for the party in the lower house of parliament. Bocchino accused Berlusconi of forcing him out because he had defended Fini in TV talk shows, and of wanting to discourage debate within the party.

Berlusconi's spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti, maintains Bocchino's decision was his own.

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