Crisis in Rome as two more ministers quit

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The Independent Online
TWO ITALIAN Cabinet ministers resigned amid scandals yesterday, dealing a stunning blow to Giuliano Amato, the Prime Minister, only hours after he had promised to soldier on and spare the country a political void.

Giovanni Goria, the Finance Minister and a Christian Democrat, stepped down, complaining of 'unjust and groundless' accusations circulating against him even though he was not the subject of any judicial investigation. The accusations had to do with the collapse of a small savings bank in Asti, northern Italy, in 1976, of which he was a board member. A political associate of Mr Goria's was arrested in connection with the affair yesterday.

Mr Goria, a former prime minister, survived a no-confidence motion last autumn following opposition charges that he had misled parliament about his role in the episode. He has also been widely criticised for mishandling the introduction of new taxes.

Shortly afterwards the Liberal Health Minister, Francesco de Lorenzo, also resigned - not, a party colleague emphasised, because a parliamentary commission had voted to lift his immunity and allow his prosecution for allegedly buying votes with jobs or favours.

Instead it was apparently the sudden and sensational arrest of his father, Ferruccio de Lorenzo. Mr de Lorenzo senior, the most prominent doctor and medical professor in Naples, is alleged to have pocketed 1.7bn lire ( pounds 770,000) from the purchase of a building for the medical profession's social insurance organisation, of which he was president. He is under house arrest.

The colleague, Alfredo Biondi, said the minister did not have the 'serenity' to carry on while the country's health services were going through a controversial period. Mr Biondi hinted that it was not entirely by accident that Mr de Lorenzo, 89, was arrested just as his son's own situation could have brought down the government. For the Liberals had threatened to pull out of the fragile coalition if the Prime Minister did not publicly support his Health Minister.

It fizzled out with the Liberals backing down and the Prime Minister warning against morally 'lynching' people. He emerged buoyant, having won applause in the Senate for insisting: 'Italy needs a government, it has a government, and this government will continue. A void cannot be the answer to what Italy is expecting.'

The lira recovered sharply as a result, only to crash again to a new low of 957 against the German mark as the resignations seemed to point to even greater instability.

Mr Amato has now seen three ministers go within eight days - last week his justice minister resigned after being told he was under investigation. He can probably replace them quickly, but other ministers are under a shadow and yet more may go.

However, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats reaffirmed their support for Mr Amato, easing fears that the fall of the coalition was imminent. As was clear in yesterday's debate in the Senate, there is no alternative to his administration in sight, efforts to put together a wider-based government having failed. And fresh elections, Mr Amato emphasised, would only exacerbate tensions between the governing parties at a time when the country needed them to work together.