Italian ministers quit Silvio Berlusconi's government

Junior minister Roberto Menia(L), deputy minister Adolfo Urso, Europe Minister Andrea Ronchi and junior minister Antonio Buonfiglio All four ministers are members of Gianfranco Fini's new political movement

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Four members of Silvio Berlusconi's coalition government have resigned, deepening the political crisis surrounding the Italian prime minister.

All four are backers of parliamentary speaker Gianfranco Fini, who left the prime minister's party over the summer.

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

Earlier this month, Mr Fini urged Mr Berlusconi to stand down, attacking him in the wake of a series of scandals.

After Mr Urso's resignation was announced, Europe Minister Andrea Ronchi said he too was stepping down. They were joined by two undersecretaries, Antonio Buonfiglio and Roberto Menia.

Mr Menia told the BBC that Italy's centre right was in crisis and had to be relaunched. He said he was also worried about the "moral message" that the government was sending out.

Analysis

This is the latest shot across Silvio Berlusconi's bow by this 'party within a party' led by Gianfranco Fini.

They are putting pressure on Mr Berlusconi to change course, by telling him they are not happy with they way he is leading Italy and they are certainly not happy with his private life.

For the moment all sides want to get this year's budget passed later this month or in early December. They do not want a Greek-style crisis here.

After that we are into possible votes of confidence. Mr Berlusconi thinks he has enough to stay in power; Mr Fini and his faction think he hasn't.

"The things that have happened under this government are reaching international attention and are not helping our international credibility," he said.

Another junior minister said he was also quitting, even though he was not a member of Mr Fini's Future and Freedom movement.

Confidence vote

Although widely expected, Monday's 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.

The prime minister 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.

Our correspondent in Rome says the latest developments will put more pressure on Mr Berlusconi but do not stop him governing.

Mr Berlusconi 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.

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

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