Berlusconi makes threat to topple government

Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has responded to his tax fraud conviction with an all-out attack on the government of Mario Monti, warning his party might withdraw its support because of what he considers counterproductive fiscal reforms.

Mr Berlusconi, 76, also lashed out at the "dictatorship of magistrates" responsible for his conviction, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's then-President Nicolas Sarkozy for an "attempted assassination of my international credibility". Mr Berlusconi delivered an at times breathless 50-minute speech in one of his villas and took 40 minutes of questions, a day after a Milan court sentenced him to four years in prison and barred him from public office for five years in a case involving the purchase of TV rights of US films for his media empire.

He announced what sounded like a political platform to undo many of Mr Monti's reforms. And he warned that his People of Freedom party would meet to decide whether to withdraw support from Mr Monti's government and force early elections.

"We have to recognise the fact that the initiative of this government is a continuation of a spiral of recession for our economy. Together with my collaborators we will decide in the next few days whether it is better to immediately withdraw our confidence in this government or keep it, given the elections that are scheduled," he said.

He blamed Mrs Merkel for many of Italy's woes, criticised Mr Monti's fiscal reforms as contributing to Italy's recession and insisted his only error was to not have secured a greater parliamentary majority in 2008.

Mr Berlusconi's re-emergence on the political scene came a day before his beleaguered party heads into a regional election in Sicily seen as a test of its ability to pull itself together after his fall from grace last year and a series of local political corruption scandals that have soured Italians' views on their entire political class.

In an apparent party rift, Fabrizio Cicchitto, leader of Berlusconi's PDL in parliament, was cool on the idea of a government in crisis. He said the real problem facing the country was the cost of borrowing.

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