Lawmakers reject no-confidence motion against junior minister

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Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government withstood a major challenge on Wednesday, with Italian lawmakers rejecting a no-confidence motion against one of his junior ministers, currently under investigation over allegations of corruption.


AFP - Italian lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a no-confidence motion against a junior minister of the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, seemingly putting off an early election scenario.

After a tense session at the lower house of parliament lost by 299 votes to 229, with 75 lawmakers abstaining from the ballot, the first major test for Berlusconi since rebel deputies withdrew from his ruling coalition last week.

"This means that we are resisting and that we will not go to the polls for now," said Minister for Reforms Umberto Bossi, Berlusconi's closest ally as head of the anti-immigration Northern League party.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, also of the Northern League, had said earlier Wednesday that elections later this year could not be ruled out after the rupture.

The renegade faction, led by lower house speaker Gianfranco Fini, abstained from the vote along with other Centrist Union UDC and independent groups, as it had announced on Tuesday.

Berlusconi's opponents wanted to force the resignation of junior justice minister Giacomo Caliendo who is under police investigation for alleged influence-peddling -- the sort of morality and legality issue which led Fini to pull his supporters out of the party he co-founded with Berlusconi.

Caliendo, who has always denied any wrongdoing, said he was "satisfied" with the vote, and added that he had "never mingled with the wrong kind of people".

"I will continue working until I have the parliament's confidence," Caliendo said.

Last week, Fini ended his 16-year alliance with Berlusconi abandoning the centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party, the largest in Italian politics.

Berlusconi, whose once comfortable majority in parliament was eroded by the split, has threatened early elections if provoked by Fini. "At the first incident, we will go to the polls," he said.

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