Italy: Berlusconi supporters angle for pardon

SILVIO Berlusconi’s aides are manoeuvering to win a presidential pardon for the ex-premier, so he can avoid a prison term and a ban on holding office.

One loyalist warned of possible “civil war” unless punishment for his tax-fraud conviction is lifted.

Renato Brunetta, a leader of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party (PDL), said he and another aide requested a meeting with Italy’s president, who can issue pardons. Separately, longtime Berlusconi loyalist Sandro Bondi said Italy risks “civil war” if the 76-year-old media mogul isn’t spared punishment.

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A law to reduce prison overcrowding slashes Berlusconi’s four-year sentence to one year. Since he is over 70, he can choose house confinement or perform social services in lieu of prison. Premier Enrico Letta’s fragile coalition risks collapse if Berlusconi’s party withdraws support.

Just three months after ­Letta took office at the head of an uneasy alliance with Berlusconi’s PDL, Italy’s economy faces uncertainty that may further hinder efforts at ­reform.

Struggling to contain divisions over tax and economic policy, the coalition’s lifespan may depend on when Berlusconi’s party considers it most politically expedient to try to force an election.