Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi wins vote of confidence

Silvio Berlusconi (left) is congratulated by allies Umberto Bossi (right) and Giulio Tremonti (centre) Mr Berlusconi (left) had been confident of the support of allies like Umberto Bossi (right)

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The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has won a confidence vote.

Mr Berlusconi's centre-right coalition survived after a breakaway group of MPs decided to back its five-point reform programme.

He had earlier made a plea for national unity, warning his opponents that any attempt to bring down the government would risk "a period of instability".

Italian politics has been dogged by bitter rows, with Mr Berlusconi's former ally Gianfranco Fini defecting.

Analysts believe Wednesday's result should be enough to keep the 74-year-old leader in office for the remainder of his term, which ends in 2013.

'Duty'

Speaking earlier in the Chamber of Deputies, Mr Berlusconi set out plans to reform Italy's justice system, increase the fiscal autonomy of its regions, fight organised crime and illegal immigration, and support the poor south.

But he also called for an end to the divisive politics recently seen in Rome.

Start Quote

It's better to take the high road in life, and the high road is elections”

End Quote Umberto Bossi Northern League

"It is absolutely in the interests of our country not to risk a period of instability in this moment where the crisis is not yet over," he said.

His proposals seemed to satisfy Mr Fini's breakaway group, whose members indicated they would support the government, at least for now.

"We will not neglect our duty, we want to carry on till the end of the parliamentary term," said Italo Bocchino, an ally of the speaker, who was expelled from Mr Berlusconi's People of Freedom party in July.

With the support of the 34 deputies who support Mr Fini, the government won the vote comfortably by 342 votes to 275, with three abstentions.

However, shortly after the vote Mr Berlusconi's main coalition partner, Umberto Bossi of the Northern League, said it would have been better if the prime minister had been forced to call early elections.

"It's better to take the high road in life, and the high road is elections," he explained. "Berlusconi didn't want elections and now we're at this point."

Recent opinion polls have shown Mr Bossi's anti-immigrant party is gaining popularity, while the People of Freedom has been slipping.

Meanwhile, opponents of the prime minister are expected to gather on the streets for a "No Berlusconi" day on Saturday.

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