Berlusconi pleas with parliament members ahead of votes

ROME — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi urged lawmakers Monday to support him in looming confidence votes, warning that bringing down his government would be "folly" because stability is essential as the country battles an economic crisis.
Fighting for his political survival, the Italian leader appealed to a group of rebel lawmakers who have vowed to try to oust him during Tuesday' scheduled votes. He offered to negotiate a new agenda that would allow the government to survive until new parliamentary elections are held in 2013, as well as a Cabinet reshuffle to give government positions to those who support him in the crucial parliamentary test."The last thing Italy needs is a political crisis," Berlusconi argued in a 30-minute speech to the Senate.
Berlusconi faces votes Tuesday in both houses of parliament after a dramatic falling-out with his one-time closest ally, Gianfranco Fini, his party's co-founder.
The 74-year-old Berlusconi was once immensely popular, but his approval ratings have nose-dived and his political capital diluted amid scandals engulfing his private life, reports of lavish parties and alleged encounters with prostitutes.
Berlusconi based much of his speech on the risks Italy would face in the event of a government downfall.
His government has generally won praise for its reaction to the global financial crisis, steadfastly directed by Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti and including a rigorous austerity package.
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