ROME – A group of 20 Italian politicians who are members of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party is considering leaving the center-right government coalition, bringing further instability to the embattled premier's government.
The governing coalition is expected to face parliament next week in a routine vote on budget matters that will be closely watched for signs that Berlusconi's majority is weakening.
But the Corriere della Sera newspaper reported Sunday that he was planning to speak with each of the 20 potential defectors ahead of the vote, in a bid to convince them to remain loyal.
Berlusconi survived a number of confidence votes over the past year and a half and reiterated Saturday -- amid protests in Rome against his government's handling of the eurozone crisis that were backed by the main opposition, the Democratic Party -- that he had no intention of resigning and that reports of key advisers urging him to step aside were merely "gossip."
"Responsibility in the face of voters and the country requires us and our government to continue this battle for civility that we are conducting in this difficult moment of the crisis," he said.
However, the center-left Democratic Party's leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, warned that "either he resigns, or he will lose the next election round," according to The Wall Street Journal.
The latest Italian protest came in the wake of Berlusconi's turbulent visit to the G-20 summit in Cannes, southern France, where the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that IMF observers will be sent to Italy in the coming week to monitor the implementation of economic measures. News of the oversight, an extremely rare step for the IMF to take with a G-8 country, triggered another sell-off in Italian bonds and drove up the country's borrowing costs.
Bersani and other opposition leaders met several times with President Giorgio Napolitano in recent days to discuss the economic crisis as well as the political gridlock. The president -- who has the power to dissolve parliament -- said Friday that "Italy cannot give signs of insufficient determination and reliability" and so far has refused to call for a dissolution.