Bossi turns on his own party critics

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The Independent Online
Rome - Umberto Bossi, the leader of the Northern League, branded party critics "lice and pigs" yesterday as the League's Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, joined dissenters attacking his attempt to topple Silvio Berlusconi.

League officials said four of the party's five cabinet ministers, including the the Budget Minister, Giancarlo Pagliarini, had said they intended to resign from the centre-right government. But the fifth minister, Mr Maroni, said he would neither resign nor vote in favour of a motion of no confidence.

Mr Berlusconi, the Prime Minister, said yesterday that there would be mass protests if his government collapsed. In a speech transmitted on his own private television channel, Rete Quattro, he said that his supporters would march in silence in Milan, Rome and other Italian towns if the League brought down the government.

Mr Bossi sounded what seemed to be the death knell for Mr Berlusconi when he announced plans to submit a no-confidence motion in parliament.The announcement drove the lira to fresh lows yesterday as dealers again took fright at Italy's mounting turmoil.

Accusing the Prime Minister of acting like a new caesar, Mr Bossi said: "Italy did not vote for Berlusconi but for a programme that Berlusconi has betrayed." Mr Bossi, however, reserved his most venomous criticism for parliamentarians from his own party who have opposed his drive to topple Mr Berlusconi.

"The League has never been for sale nor will it ever be, even though the League, like all parties, has been infiltrated by some opportunistic lice and pigs," Mr Bossi wrote in a weekly newsletter.

Mr Maroni refused to bow to Mr Bossi's verbal onslaught. "You can't ask a minister to vote no confidence in himself," Italian television quoted Mr Maroni as saying. "Even if I were convinced that I had done my job badly I couldn't vote against myself. I would resign before stooping to the ridiculous," he said.

Signatures for the League motion, drafted jointly with the opposition centrist Popular Party (PPI), were being gathered before formal presentation to the Chamber of Deputies.

Mr Bossi needs 316 of the 630 votes in the lower house to bring down the Prime Minister in a no-confidence vote, which is expected on Thursday or Friday. He claims to have 325 deputies behind his drive to form a new, broad-based government for institutional reform with the PPI and the former communist Democratic Party of the Left (PDS).

But Marcello Staglieno, the League's deputy leader in the Senate, said 24 League senators and 60 of the 103 League deputies were not willing to back Mr Bossi. The PDS has said it will present its own no-confidence motion - a reflection of sensitivity in the League that too close an association with the former Communist Party would alienate support among its bedrock of middle-class voters.