16 Nov 2010

Another blow for Berlusconi as ministers quit

6:34 am on 16 November 2010

Four ministers have resigned from the Italian government, raising the prospect of early elections and dealing a further blow to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Outgoing deputy minister Adolfo Urso said they wanted to open a new political phase.

After Mr Urso's resignation was announced, Europe Minister Andrea Ronchi said he was also stepping down. Under-secretaries Antonio Buonfiglio and Roberto Menia have also resigned, the BBC reports.

The four now belong to a new party led by Mr Berlusconi's former political ally Gianfranco Fini.

Mr Fini has called on Mr Berlusconi to step down, saying Italy's political leaders have lost a sense of dignity and duty.

The resignations will come as a blow to Mr Berlusconi, who survived a vote of confidence in September and will face a similar vote after Italy's budget is passed in the coming weeks.

He still has a majority in the Italian Senate, but no longer has a majority in the lower house of parliament without the votes of his former coalition partner.

The Prime Minister has been hit by a spate of allegations.

Recently, he denied improper conduct in the case of a teenage nightclub dancer who was released from a police cell following his intervention.

Mr Berlusconi has refused to resign, arguing that the only alternative is early elections which he believes he would win.