Berlusconi survives parliamentary test

Premier Silvio Berlusconi yesterday survived his first test in parliament since the break-up with a powerful ally, a victory that leaves his conservative government safely in place at least until after the summer.

But the vote also exposed the erosion of Mr Berlusconi's majority after the split with longtime ally Gianfranco Fini, possibly giving the Italian leader a taste of troubles to come after the holiday break.

Mr Berlusconi's lawmakers defeated an opposition censure motion against a government official implicated in a corruption scandal. The 299-229 vote was parliament's last political significant act until September. It was seen as a test of strength for Mr Berlusconi.

"This is a signal that we're staying on and that there is no election now," said Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League government party and, at this point, Mr Berlusconi's staunchest partner.

Lawmakers loyal to Mr Fini abstained from the voting. Mr Fini's 33 deputies formed their own breakaway parliamentary group in the wake of the break-up, potentially depriving Mr Berlusconi's coalition of a majority in the lower house. Yesterday's decision to abstain kept Mr Berlusconi afloat but also showed that the premier's grip is loosening and gave a measure of Mr Fini's clout.

Mr Fini's lawmakers sided with a group of centrist and moderate deputies, bringing the number of abstentions to 75.