Protesters ask Berlusconi to quit

Tens of thousands of demonstrators gather in Rome for rally organised by the main left-wing party.

Silvio Berlusconi faces scepticism about whether his struggling government can deliver vital reforms [REUTERS]

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Rome for a rally organised by the main left-wing party to demand Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation.

“Silvio out” was the rallying cry for the large crowd that took part in a rally on Saturday organised by the Democratic Party, the country’s main opposition movement.

“The sooner we send them to the junkyard the better,”  read one large placard that was plastered with pictures of ministers in Berlusconi’s government.

The placard also included pictures of his lawyer Niccolo Ghedini and Nicole Minetti, the former showgirl who was promoted to regional councillor in Milan after serving as Berlusconi’s dental hygienist.

Both are symbols of what the opposition sees as a corrupt administration.

Popularity plummets

Some demonstrators also poured scorn on the prime minister after G20 leaders put Italy’s struggling economy under surveillance amid a lack of trust in Berlusconi’s reform pledges.

At the G20 summit in Cannes, the billionaire prime minister played down the gravity of the economic crisis with a trademark quip, claiming that “restaurants are full and the planes fully booked”.

“I go to restaurants … to do the washing up,” read one banner at Saturday’s mass demo.

Berlusconi’s popularity ratings have hit a record low of 22 per cent, according to the latest poll released on Wednesday.

There have been growing calls from the opposition for a national unity government to pass unpopular reforms but Berlusconi’s key ally, the Northern League party, has said it would prefer early elections.
Italy’s main media outlets were writing off Berlusconi on Saturday, with even pro-government newspapers admitting his situation looked desperate after a humiliating G20 summit and the latest sell-off of Italy’s bonds.

With reports of numerous defections from his ruling coalition, Berlusconi could fall as soon as a key vote in parliament on Tuesday. But, with no obvious alternative majority, what follows remains highly uncertain.

Lost credibility

Italy’s loss of credibility was a recurring theme in the press, following news that the International Monetary Fund will visit Rome quarterly to check up on its reform pledges, and a rise in bond yields to a record high on Friday.

“It is rare to hear a global summit talking about a country’s loss of credibility and it is sad to see that this is what is happening to Italy,” wrote the business daily Il Sole 24 Ore under the headline: “On the edge of the abyss”.

The daily Corriere della Sera said the latest defections took him clearly below the 316 votes needed for an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies and it was possible he would muster as few as 306, meaning certain defeat.

Anti-Berlusconi newspapers on Saturday reiterated their frequent calls for him to quit, but the centerist daily La Stampa also said he should go for the good of the country, his own coalition and his voters.

“With every day that passes, our premier makes it more clear that he has lost touch not only with Italy but also with reality,” the paper’s director wrote in an editorial.

Even the pro-government daily Il Foglio, directed by one of Berlusconi’s advisers, called him “a shadow of himself” and said Italy was “an extremely solid country but we lack one detail: political leadership”.

Source: News Agencies

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