Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowly survived a no-confidence motion in the lower house of parliament on Tuesday.
Despite the victory, the future of Berlusconi's centre-right government remains uncertain because his wafer-thin majority will make it difficult for him to pass legislation.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowly survived a no-confidence motion on Tuesday that left his struggling centre-right government clinging to power by a handful of votes.
Berlusconi's survival was ensured with 314 votes against 311 in the lower house of parliament.
Vote counting after an acrimonious debate was briefly interrupted by a scuffle between deputies from rival camps.
Pier Luigi Bersani, head of the opposition Democratic Party, said Berlusconi's survival was a Pyrrhic victory.
"You, prime minister are no longer in a position to govern," he told parliament.
Riot police blocked off the centre of Rome and clashed with protesters who threw firecrackers and paint bombs at the Senate and oranges at the economy ministry.
After a year overshadowed by corruption and sex scandals and an acrimonious split with former ally Gianfranco Fini that cost him a secure parliamentary majority, the result offered at least a temporary lifeline to the 74-year-old premier.
Thousands of students, workers and other government opponents staged other protests around the country on Tuesday.
Had Berlusconi lost in the lower house following a clear win in the Senate earlier on Tuesday, he would have had to resign, potentially opening the way to early elections more than two years before they are due in 2013.
The result was secured after a fevered campaign of back room deals, in which opposition accusations of vote-buying and corruption have been answered by fierce denials and counter-accusations of treachery.
With the vote out of the way, attention now switches to the concessions Berlusconi will have to offer to centrists and rebels on the centre-right to secure a longer term alliance.
On Monday, Berlusconi offered to open up his government to moderates in a broad electoral pact but his coalition allies in the Northern League, who play the role of government kingmakers, have already expressed scepticism.
"Either there are the conditions for continuing in government with a solid majority or it would be better to go to an election," Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a senior member of the Northern League told reporters.
Former anti-corruption judge Antonio Di Pietro, who now heads the opposition Italy of Values party, said in parliament:
"Whatever the result of the vote you have bought, one thing is clear. You (Berlusconi) do not have a political majority that would allow you to govern."
"Whether you like it or not, you have reached the end of the line for your political experience," he said.