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The defection of a key ally. New sex scandals. Charges of tax fraud. The collapse of Pompeii. A new trash crisis in Naples. Has Silvio Berlusconi used up the last of his political nine lives? Italy’s central bank warns end of country's economic malaise is still far away. Hollywood star calls the prime minister “idiotic.”
Top News: Pressure on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to step down or call for elections continued to rise in recent weeks, with former ally and the speaker of the lower house of parliament calling for his resignation. Gianfranco Fini, one of the main candidates to succeed Berlusconi if there is a change of government, said that if Berlusconi does not change his governmental program or call for new elections he will withdraw support of the parliamentarians loyal to Fini, robbing Berlusconi and his partners of their parliamentary majority.
The faceoff with Fini is the latest in a long series of setbacks for Berlusconi. In recent weeks, Berlusconi has faced a security inquiry into his sex life, allegations of tax fraud in his privately-owned companies, the collapse of an ancient wall at the Pompeii historical site that called into question Berlusconi’s cultural budget cuts, and the resurfacing of the garbage collection problem around Naples that left waist-high garbage on the side of the streets in several cities and towns and sparked clashes between residents and police.
Though the defection of Fini might eventually prove to be Berlusconi’s undoing, it is the trash crisis that seems to be the most poignant problem. Berlusconi came to power in 2008 by criticizing the previous government for its inability to handle a similar crisis around Naples, and he quickly got the situation under control. With the same problem bubbling up two years later, many in Italy wonder if Berlusconi can really solve problems. It’s a question that prompted a cutting insult from Fini, who said that Berlusconi’s claims to run “un governo del fare” (a government that does things) was really “un governo del fare finta” (a government that fakes doing things.)
Money: The Italian business community has said Berlusconi’s blunders are hurting the country’s economy by distracting attention from economic issues and forcing business leaders to apologize for the prime minister’s actions when they should be closing deals. “His bragging, his jokes, are negative, and they’re hurting Italian companies,” said Mario Corella, the head of a Northern Italian bathroom fitting company.
Bankers calling for the prime minister’s resignation and other scandals have driven up Italian government bond yields, further taxing Italy's in-the-red treasury. The Standard & Poor’s rating agency agreed, saying “political instability” in Italy jeopardized the country’s efforts to cut growth and recover economically.
Though he didn’t blame Berlusconi, Mario Draghi, the head of the Central Reserve Bank of Italy, warned sluggish economic growth in Italy might be the norm for a while. “We have clearly suffered a loss of competitiveness compared with our European partners,” Draghi said, placing the blame on high taxes, inefficient labor practices and an economy built on companies too small to compete internationally.
Elsewhere: The 74-year-old Berlusconi attracted criticism from an unlikely source in late October when he defended himself against charges of an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old Moroccan belly dancer by saying it was “better to like beautiful girls than to be gay.”
The remarks drew the expected criticism from political opponents, gay advocacy groups and women’s organizations. But the most unexpected blast came from actress Julianne Moore who was in Rome to receive a career achievement award from the International Rome Film Festival after her latest film “The Kids Are All Right.”
Moore is an outspoken gay rights advocate, and the film tells the story of a lesbian couple struggling to raise two children. When asked about Berlusconi’s remarks from earlier that day, Moore did not hesitate before calling Berlusconi’s remarks “unfortunate, archaic and idiotic.”
“To hint or to say there is something wrong with homosexuality is very unfortunate and it’s embarrassing when supposed leaders continue to perpetuate these untruths,” Moore said to strong applause at the festival.