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Berlusconi avoids vote catastrophe

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's Prime Minister, won a confidence vote last night, emerging strengthened from a test of his authority after a breakaway right-wing group backed his call for national unity.

Mr Berlusconi, who might have been forced to step down had he lost the vote, relied on the support of Gianfranco Fini's rebel group of more than 40 MPs. They fell in line after Mr Berlusconi issued a new five-point government plan, including details of new tax cuts.

The premier's pitch had been overshadowed by claims that his People of Freedom party had promised cash and appointments in exchange for votes.