|An Italian commentator has described support for Silvio Berlusconi as 'dissolving like a snowman in spring' [Reuters]
Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister Italy, has refused to step down despite a party rebellion that has brought his centre-right coalition to the brink of collapse in the face of a growing economic crisis.
Although Berlusconi is widely believed to have already lost the support he needs to survive in parliament, he told reporters at the G20 summit in France on Friday: "We have a majority which I continue to believe is solid and so we will continue to govern."
The 75-year-old media magnate described party rebels as traitors to the country but said they would return to the fold
once he spoke to them, despite the economic crisis that has fuelled an open revolt in his ruling PDL party.
Underlining the foreboding atmosphere, yields on 10-year Italian bonds hit a euro lifetime high of 6.43 per cent at one
point on Friday, close to levels which led to bailouts of Ireland and Portugal.
Berlusconi, caught in the crossfire from European powers and the party revolt at home, agreed at the summit to IMF monitoring of economic reforms which he has long promised but failed to implement. He said he had turned down an offer of IMF funding for Italy.
All this may soon be irrelevant to the prime minister who returned home on Friday to face what looks increasingly like a
career-ending revolt by his own supporters.
The strains in his government were on display in Cannes where Giulio Tremonti, Italy's economy minister, refused to directly answer a question on whether he agreed Berlusconi could continue.
With financial markets in turmoil over Greece, and Italy viewed as the next domino to fall in the eurozone crisis, calls
are mounting for a new government to carry through reforms convincing enough to regain international confidence.
Berlusconi says the only alternative to him is an early election next spring, rather than the national unity government urged by many politicians and commentators.
Two deputies from Berlusconi's PDL party this week defected to the centrist UDC, taking his support in the 630-seat lower house of parliament to a likely 315 compared with the 316 he needed to win a confidence vote last month.
But at least seven other former loyalists have called for a new government and could vote against him.
"The [ruling] majority seems to be dissolving like a snowman in spring," said respected commentator Stefano Folli in the
financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore. Other commentators spoke of an "inexorable" revolt against Berlusconi.
Berlusconi, one of Italy's richest men, still has significant powers of patronage and he and his closest aides are
expected to spend the weekend trying to win back support for a parliamentary showdown on Tuesday.
Berlusconi, beset by a string of sex scandals and court cases, has consistently resisted pressure from groups ranging
from a powerful business lobby to the Catholic Church to stand down.