Italian Debt Causes Political Wrangling

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ROME, Aug. 23 (UPI) — Italyian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is said to be facing opposition to his austerity measures after publicly rebuking a key coalition government ally.

The Italian Senate’s debate over the details of the government’s plan to cut $65 billion in spending and balance the budget over the next two years has created heightened tension within the coalition, ANSA reported Tuesday.

Dissent between the coalition partners raised questions of whether the budget measures could gain a government majority.

The measures include higher taxes, cuts in public spending and raising the retirement age.

On Monday, Umberto Bossi, head of the Northern League, questioned Italy’s future as a unified country and complained that wealthy northern regions were subsidizing the poor south.

His comments brought an immediate response from Berlusconi.

“I am sorry but this time I do not agree with my friend Umberto,” the premier said in a statement. “I am deeply convinced that Italy is here to stay and will be here always.”

The austerity decree must be approved within 60 days by Parliament.

“Now discussion moves to the Parliament with a precise warning,” Berlusconi aide and Cabinet undersecretary Paolo Boniauti said.

“We have to respect the need for rapid approval and the overall amount cannot be touched.”

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