Bossi's antics risk alienating his party

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The Independent Online
MILAN - The Northern League leader, Umberto Bossi, long a thorn in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's side, risks embarrassing even his own supporters with continued attacks on his government allies, analysts say.

In his latest outburst, Mr Bossi accused the Prime Minister of secretly asking the Italian President, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, for snap elections in the hope the League would lose much of its vote.

Mr Bossi said on Wednesday he had learned that Mr Berlusconi had phoned Mr Scalfaro earlier in the day urging the dissolution of parliament, in which the League is the largest party in the ruling coalition. Mr Bossi accused Mr Berlusconi, in power since March elections, of being desperate to thwart the League's plans for federalism and competition laws that could force the Prime Minister to break up his business empire.

President Scalfaro and Mr Berlusconi angrily denied any such request had been made, and Gianfranco Fini, leader of the neo- fascist National Alliance, the third party in government, branded Mr Bossi as 'puerile'.

'I won't waste time denying such rubbish. I'll propose a tax on idle gossip,' Mr Berlusconi said.

Even the Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, the League's senior politician in government, dismissed any suggestion of quick polls. 'Not even in your wildest dreams . . . this government is going to last a long time,' he told La Repubblica newspaper yesterday.

Italian newspapers billed the clash as the end of a truce between Mr Berlusconi and Mr Bossi, sealed at a meeting two weeks ago.

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