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Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party threatens to topple Italy’s government

One senior Pdl senator, Renato Schifani, said that the tycoon’s opponents on a cross-party committee had 'prepared a gas chamber for him'

Silvio Berlusconi’s supporters were ratchetting up the rhetoric today as the likely end game approaches in the disgraced tycoon’s 20-year political career, in the form of a ban from parliament.

A chorus of voices in his Pdl (People of Freedom) party said they would bring down the unstable, coalition government should centre-left parliamentarians press ahead with their efforts to strip Mr Berlusconi, 76, of his senate seat. Their moves were prompted by his conviction last month for tax fraud.

Under an anti-corruption law introduced by the previous government, people with definitive criminal convictions are not allowed to hold seats in parliament.

This evening, a cross-party senate committee, dominated by Berlusconi opponents, is due to vote on whether or not to recommend his expulsion. A recommendation for expulsion would then pass to the main senate chamber, where Berlusconi supporters are also in a minority, for the definitive vote.

The ex-premier’s supporters insist the senate committee should not vote until the Europe Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has had time to study their objections. They say that senators from the centre-left Democratic Party and populist Five Star Movement are seeking to apply the law incorrectly to settle a political grudge match.

One senior Pdl senator, Renato Schifani, said that the tycoon’s opponents on the committee had “prepared a gas chamber for him”.

Mr Berlusconi’s opponents, however, say the Pdl is putting the personal interests of a criminal billionaire ahead of those of the country – just as hopes of an economic recovery arrive and a period of stable government appears more important than ever. Some pundits even suggest the Pdl is bluffing.