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Berlusconi faces confidence vote after defections

Silvio Berlusconi has been defying pundits' predictions of his imminent demise, but Italian newspapers predicted yesterday that 16 likely defections from his PDL party would put the 75-year-old premier's tottering coalition government out of its misery.

Mr Berlusconi sought to put a brave face on things as he looks ahead to a week of confidence votes. "Despite the defectors, whom I hope will return, we still have a majority," he said yesterday. But even his political supporters say the end is nigh – and cannot come too soon if Italy's debt crisis is to be resolved. "We call on Mr Berlusconi to contribute with all his political influence to the creation of a government of national unity and salvation," said PDL senator, Beppe Pisanu.

If Mr Berlusconi loses a confidence vote, head of state, Giorgio Napolitano, will probably step in to form a caretaker government, whose top priority will be to enact economic reforms.