Parliament to decide Berlusconi's political future

Italy's Parliament will decide the future of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's struggling centre-right government on 14 December in two confidence votes that may trigger early elections, a political source said.

The votes, in the lower house and the Senate, will not come until parliament has voted on the 2011 budget law, considered vital to guarantee the stability of Italy's public finances amid the mounting turmoil of the eurozone debt crisis.

The day could be one of the most significant in the 74- year-old Prime Minister's career and he is expected to give an interview on the main television station to outline his position.

His Senate majority is expected to ensure his survival in the upper house, but defeat in the lower house would force him to resign.

On the same day, Italy's constitutional court is due to make a ruling that will decide whether he must face trial over charges which he has denied of bribing the British lawyer David Mills to give false testimony.

A decision on the timing of the votes had been closely awaited after supporters of Mr Berlusconi's rival Gianfranco Fini pulled out of the government on Monday following months of acrimonious internal wrangling. President Giorgio Napolitano met Mr Fini, the Speaker of the lower house, yesterday to discuss the parliamentary timetable.

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