Italian government on verge of collapse: President appeals to nation for 'steadfastness and calm'

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The Independent Online
THE Italian Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato, with his government on the verge of collapse amid Italy's worsening political crisis, yesterday begged President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro to find a stronger one.

The President, concerned about the growing sense of uncertainty in the country, appealed to the nation for 'steadfastness and calm', and dismissed talk of a possible coup d'etat. 'The republic is solidly based,' he said. Then he started the search for a broader parliamentary majority.

The Finance Minister, Franco Re viglio, resigned yesterday after magistrates had warned him that he was being investigated on suspicion of corruption. This was the last straw for Mr Amato, who put his office at the disposal of the President. Five other ministers had already resigned.

At the same time Mr Amato's own Socialist Party was verbally backing away and saying the country needed a broader-based government quickly, while the Christian Democrat Party was visibly crumbling under the impact of Mafia allegations against one of its great leaders, Giulio Andreotti.

Mr Amato did not actually resign. Both he and the President are anxious that the country should not be without a fully empowered government at this critical point, and both want to avoid any situation which could precipitate fresh elections before the 18 April referendum on electoral reform had been held and a new electoral law had been passed.

President Scalfaro immediately summoned Achille Occhetto, leader of the ex-Communists, the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) for an hour's talk. They are the largest opposition party and any broadly based government would need to include them.

No details of their talk were known but it appeared likely that, with the former ruling parties in great disarray, the President may be aiming for an 'institutional' government led by the speaker of one of the houses of parliament.

Earlier the President issued a statement saying 'this is certainly a difficult moment . . . (but) the republic is solidly based.' Its institutions could not be shaken by rumours and 'hypotheses of less than constitutional behaviour' by forces of the state - meaning talk of a coup d'etat. 'Let us maintain steadfastness and calm so as not to increase the country's difficulties,' he said.

A main source of uncertainty is now the disarray in the Christian Democrat Party after investigation of Giulio Andreotti, the former prime minister and a leader of the party for half a century, and several other prominent figures for collusion with the Mafia.

Until this week the worst-hit party was the Socialists, with their leader and former prime minister, Bettino Craxi, the most prominent person accused of corruption. Mr Craxi, who loudly complained that this was grossly unfair, might be feeling some schadenfreude at the sight of the much bigger Christian Democrats, the party which has ruled Italy almost uninterruptedly since the war, in a worse mess.

The Andreotti investigation prompted Mario Segni, the leading figure in the movement which is pushing through political reforms by means of referendums, to resign from the party. These events, he said 'finally convinced me that the attempt to reform this party from within is quite hopeless'.

Mr Segni has set his sights on a 'new popular force', a much broader political movement than Italy has yet known, more like the Democratic Party of America. His closest associates promptly left with him and now many other members may be tempted to follow. The party leadership, bitter that Mr Segni dealt his blow at such a bad moment, appealed to members to close ranks. The Catholic Church hierarchy, shocked at the allegations against the most pious of the party's leaders, are worried that active Catholics may soon no longer be usefully united in one party.

Such is the disarray that members have called for an 'extraordinary congress of reconstruction' or a meeting of members in both houses of parliament to find their way out of the confusion.