Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's main conservative ally dismissed on Tuesday talk of a break-up that could have led to early elections, but said he would not "shut up" when in disagreement.
Tension between the premier and Gianfranco Fini, who folded his party into Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) in 2009, has grown since gains by the Northern League in regional voting last month vote shifted the balance of power in the ruling coalition.
The anti-immigrant League, emboldened from winning its two first regional governorships in the affluent north, wants to spearhead the constitutional reforms that are the focus of Berlusconi's remaining three years in office.
It has also set its sights on placing its own people on the boards of some of Italy's biggest banks, using the politically influenced banking foundations which are major shareholders in the northern lenders.
But that has irked Fini, speaker of the lower house and a potential successor to the 73-year-old Berlusconi. Fini made his discontent clear in a tense meeting with the premier last week.
A document signed by 50 parliamentarians backing Fini, whose powerbase is in southern Italy, said on Tuesday talk of a break-up or early elections was "incomprehensible to us".
A rival manifesto signed by another 75 lawmakers from Fini's former National Alliance party called the decision to merge with Berlusconi's PDL "right and irreversible".
But Fini remained in combative mode ahead of an emergency PDL summit on Thursday to discuss the split with Berlusconi.
"You have by no means seen the last of me, and I have no intention to shut up," he said. "Is internal dissent legitimate or is this a party ... where one always has to say yes?"
He said the Northern League was a very important and loyal ally, "but right now it has shown that it is the master" of the coalition. Berlusconi has responded coldly to Fini's growing criticism, saying on Sunday that he hoped to mend fences with him but "it's not up to me". He described his Northern League partner, Umberto Bossi, as "the only ally we have".
But he can hardly afford a defection that could make his bloc lose its comfortable majority in both houses of parliament and paralyse his government.
ReutersLast Mod: 20 Nisan 2010, 19:02