Italy PM Silvio Berlusconi wins confidence vote

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Media captionThere was applause as the result of the vote was announced

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has won a key confidence vote in parliament, sparked by questions over his handling of the economy and personal scandals.

Mr Berlusconi won the vote in the lower house by 316 vote to 301.

Italy's government credit rating was recently downgraded and parliament failed to back a key part of the budget this week, triggering the vote.

Mr Berlusconi also faces trial on sex, bribery and abuse of power charges.

The outcome of the vote was in doubt until the last minute - even some of Mr Berlusconi's own MPs were expressing uncertainty.

Most of the opposition boycotted the first round of the vote, raising questions about whether there were enough MPs to form a quorum.

The prime minister's allies applauded when the result of the vote was announced.

However, the BBC's David Willey, in Rome, says the fact that he scraped through with the minimum number of votes presages trouble ahead. If Mr Berlusconi has to get a vote of confidence on every issue, he will find it very difficult to govern.

Even with Mr Berlusconi's survival, our correspondent says most Italians are betting on a general election as early as next spring - more than a year before the prime minister's term expires.

Mr Berlusconi is likely to call further votes of confidence in the coming weeks, our correspondent says, as this is his trick for staying in power.

He faces almost daily calls for his resignation.

The confidence vote was forced after parliament on Tuesday failed to approve one article of the budget by a single vote. It later emerged that the finance minister had failed to meet the ballot deadline by 30 seconds.

Despite facing four trials - including for allegedly paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl - and an all-time-low approval rating of 24%, Mr Berlusconi has shown remarkable staying power. He has always maintained his innocence.

On Saturday, he also faces a mass demonstration of some 200,000 people in Rome - similar to recent ones in New York and Madrid - against austerity measures and financial mismanagement.

Italy is considered vulnerable in the current eurozone crisis, with the highest public debt among countries using the European single currency.

The country approved an austerity package last month to balance the budget by 2013 but its central bank chief this week urged the government to introduce more measures to stimulate growth.

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