Italy's right could split after Berlusconi move -lawmakers


ROME, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Italy's political centre-rightcould split, lawmakers said on Saturday, after Silvio Berlusconiresurrected his old Forza Italia party and suspended the Peopleof Freedom (PDL), part of the wobbly left-right coalitiongovernment.

Several parliamentarians allied to the former prime ministerwere critical of Berlusconi's move, and five senior PDL membersboycotted Friday's meeting where the decision was made.

Forza Italia (Go Italy!) was Berlusconi's party when hefirst entered politics in 1994, and although he said it wouldsupport the government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta, just asthe PDL has done, it has caused a rift among his followers.

"My absence at the president's office was motivated by mytotal opposition to the proposal to dissolve the PDL... toreturn to a Forza Italia which I have never been a part of,"Senator Carlo Giovanardi said on his website.

Giovanardi added that the centre-right could split into twoallied groups: Forza Italia led by Berlusconi and a PDL led byits current secretary Angelino Alfano.

Alfano led an internal party revolt earlier this month thatthwarted Berlusconi's attempt to bring down Letta's coalition.

Prominent PDL official Fabrizio Cicchitto told La Repubblicanewspaper he saw the centre right becoming a "two-pole system",and said the decision to wind down the PDL was not valid untilratified by a vote at a Dec. 8 party conference.

In emailed statements, some lawmakers continued to sign offas members of "People of Freedom" while others switched to use"Forza Italia".

Despite signs of strain, many party officials played downdivisions and tried to present a common front.

"The return of Forza Italia will signal a new season ofsuccess for the centre right, Berlusconi will know how to findunity!" former PDL Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini saidon Twitter.

Those allied with Alfano are known as "doves", seen asmoderate and more reluctant to undermine the government.

Berlusconi loyalists are described as more hardline "hawks",who frequently threaten to bring down the government unless itcuts taxes.

Estimates by Italian newspapers said Alfano's faction wouldbe big enough to keep Letta from losing his government majorityshould Berlusconi's group withdraw its support.

But the turmoil could further hamper efforts by thecoalition to force through reforms and spur growth in the eurozone's largest economy, stuck in its longest post-war recession.

Berlusconi, 77, who has dominated the political right fortwo decades, faces expulsion from parliament following a taxfraud conviction.

The media tycoon is also embroiled in other cases on chargesincluding corruption and paying for sex with a minor. Hemaintains the trials against him are attempts by biased judgesto destroy a political opponent.

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