Berlusconi trying to broker deal to save government

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It appears that Gianfranco Fini, the ally-turned-critic of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, may yet return to the Berlusconi fold, a key Fini supporter said on Monday.

This is a new development that would almost assure Berlusconi's victory in a Dec. 14 confidence vote that holds the future of the government in the balance.

Fini, a long-time Berlusconi ally, broke ranks with Berlusconi in July and in November sparked the current government crisis by calling on the 74-year-old prime minister to resign.

In a deal aimed at buying time for parliament to pass the country's 2011 budget, a confidence vote was set for Dec. 14. Analysts believe that without the support of the three-dozen Fini allies in the lower house of parliament, Berlusconi has virtually no chance to survive the vote.

Ever since the confidence vote was announced, Berlusconi has been defiant, vowing to win the vote and arguing that his support levels are under-reported by critical media.

But now it appears that Berlusconi's allies have crunched the numbers enough to realize they cannot prevail without Fini, and they have reached out to try to bring him back into the fold.

Roberto Menia, a former undersecretary who resigned from the Berlusconi government a week ago at Fini's request, told Canale 5 television on Monday that a reconciliation may be reached between the erstwhile allies.

"Berlusconi and Fini need to focus on common ground and not on dividing points," Menia said. "A new unity can be found ... there is no doubt about it."

The Italian media is seeing Menia's comments as the first indications of a possible reconciliation between the two sides, speculating that calculations either indicate that Fini may believe he would not be successful in forming his own government coalition or that Berlusconi may have made Fini an offer to change tact on some key policy points or to increase Fini's influence in a new government.

There are also reports that Pier Francesco Casini, another former ally who left the coalition two years ago, is reaching out to Berlusconi by proposing a truce.

It is thought that with the support of either Fini or Casini, Berlusconi would have little problem winning the confidence vote. But it is not clear if such reconciliation would sit well with other key Berlusconi allies.

But despite the reports of the possible return of the former allies to the current government's political fold, the news for Berlusconi has not been all good.

On Monday, a Sicilian court ruled that Marcello Dell'Utri, a key Berlusconi advisor who was born in Sicily, was guilty of acting as a link between the Sicilian Mafia and the prime minister.

"Dell'Utri carried out an activity of mediation as a link between the Mafia association Cosa Nostra ... and Silvio Berlusconi," the court said in a statement.

In his own statement, Dell'Utri said the accusations were not new and he denied any wrongdoing on his part or from Berlusconi.

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