Thousands Rally in Rome, Pressing Italy’s Berlusconi to Resign Amid Crisis

Tens of thousands of Italians gathered in Rome to call on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to resign, as defections eroded his parliamentary majority at a time when the country’s borrowing costs are at a euro-era high.

Hundreds of buses and 14 special trains brought thousands of supporters of the opposition Democratic Party to the rally in front of the Basilica of St. John Lateran to hear calls for the premier to go. Demonstrators shouted “Shame”” and “Get Out” in the square that’s home to the first church built in Rome.

The premier, who generally spends his weekends at his home in Milan, remained in Rome in consultation with his top advisers after several lawmakers said they planned to abandon his People of Liberty party, threatening to leave him without a majority in Parliament before a key vote. Calls will increase for Berlusconi to resign if he loses the ballot to rubberstamp the 2010 budget report, likely to be held on Nov. 8.

“A lot of rumors and whispers are making the rounds of Rome’s palaces: the resignation of this government,” Berlusconi said in an e-mailed statement today. “But the responsibility toward the voters and the country force us and our government to continue the battle of civility that we have been conducting during this difficult moment of crisis.”

Berlusconi, 75, is coming under mounting pressure at home and abroad as his government’s inability to convince investors and European allies that Italy can trim the euro-region’s second-biggest debt sent the yield on the country’s 10-year bond to more than 6.4 percent on Nov. 4. The premier said the same day that he had requested International Monetary Fund monitoring of Italy’s debt-cutting efforts while rejecting an offer of aid from the Washington-based lender.

President Weighs In

President Giorgio Napolitano, who consulted this past week with all political parties about the crisis, a process that normally happens after a government falls, today called for unity, saying Italy can’t mend itself “in a climate of war.” He said it’s “indispensible” for all political sides to back the austerity and economic-growth steps Italy has promised the European Union it will carry out.

Angelino Alfano, leader of Berlusconi’s party, said today that while the premier isn’t considering resigning, he is mulling the “political” steps needed to muster “the broadest possible” backing for Italy’s pledged economic measures, Ansa newswire reported. Berlusconi’s term ends in 2013.

The premier’s top aides, including Alfano, have told him that he no longer has the support to govern and should consider stepping aside, Repubblica newspaper reported today, citing no one. Two lawmakers last week abandoned his coalition to join other parties and six more wrote a letter in newspaper Corriere della Sera calling on Berlusconi to resign.

Defectors

They demanded that he seek to bring in opposition parties to form a government with broader backing to comply with EU and European Central Bank demands to speed implementation of measures aimed at boosting growth and cutting the 1.9 trillion- euro ($2.6 trillion) debt. The ECB has been buying Italian bonds since Aug. 8 to try to bring down borrowing costs in a country that sells more than 200 billion euros of bonds a year.

Both Pierferdinando Casini, leader of the Union of Centrists party, and Pier Luigi Bersani, head of the main opposition Democratic Party, also called for unity. “There’s a need to unite forces and create an armistice among the political forces to give life to a government that has credibility internationally,” Casini said in Turin today.

Key Test

The vote in the lower house in the coming week takes place after the premier failed to muster a majority on the same routine measure last month, prompting Napolitano to ask him to prove that he still has the numbers to govern. Berlusconi then called and won a confidence vote on Oct. 14, with 316 votes in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies.

Berlusconi’s resignation or the fall of his government in a confidence vote wouldn’t necessarily lead to early elections. Napolitano would hold consultations with all parties to see if another government could be formed, which could include Berlusconi. He could also try to muster support for a technical government, reaching out to figures beyond the parties to run a new administration.

Such a government “could speed up the reform process,” Annalisa Piazza, an economist at Newedge Group in London, said in a note to investors yesterday. “Italy needs credibility to be saved from a vicious circle” and a “downward spiral on its debt can still be avoided.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Davis in Rome at abdavis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Craig Stirling at cstirling1@bloomberg.net.

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