Berlusconi ally faces no-confidence vote

Opposition party MPs are pressing for a no-confidence vote against one of Silvio Berlusconi's most loyal ministers, in another blow to the already wounded Prime Minister.

Sandro Bondi, the Culture Minister, has so far dismissed calls to step down over the collapse last Sunday of the 2,000-year-old "House of the Gladiators" in the ruins of Pompeii, buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. But he has been forced to acknowledge that more buildings at the Unesco world heritage site south of Naples may collapse.

Mr Bondi, one of three national co-ordinators of Mr Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, said it would be wrong for him to quit over what he described as long-standing problems at the site.

The opposition blames mismanagement and funding cuts by the current centre-right government for the dire state of the archaeological site.

The no-confidence threat against Mr Bondi by the largest opposition group, the Democratic Party, presents Mr Berlusconi with a no-win situation. His coalition would be weakened if Mr Bondi resigned or if he had to face a no-confidence motion.

Mr Berlusconi no longer has a majority in the lower house since Gianfranco Fini, his one-time ally and now most bitter rival, formed his own party, the Freedom and Future for Italy.