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Political rival demands Berlusconi's resignation

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is facing calls from his most bitter political rival to resign for the good of Italy and start negotiations to form a new centre-right government.

Lower house speaker Gianfranco Fini, a co-founder of Mr Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PDL) who was expelled from it last July, said members of his new Future and Freedom party would support a new government led by Mr Berlusconi only if the Prime Minister agreed to certain conditions.

Mr Fini told a rally for his party in central Italy that the conditions would include a new programme to help the south of the country by boosting employment and a reform of the electoral law. He said: "We need a new agenda, a new programme; the centre-right that existed when the PDL was founded does not exist any more."

If Mr Berlusconi did not agree to the conditions, Mr Fini said members of his party would resign from the government. One minister, one deputy minister and two under-secretaries are members of Mr Fini's party.

"If Berlusconi wants to show his love for the country ... the right thing to do is for him to resign, trigger a crisis and start a new phase in which the centre-right programme and agenda is quickly re-discussed and we take stock of the whole situation," Mr Fini said.

Altero Matteoli, Italy's infrastructure minister, said Mr Berlusconi had no intention of resigning.

The future of Mr Berlusconi's government has been in the balance since he expelled Mr Fini in July from the PDL party they created together in 2008 to unite the centre-right.