Italy's Berlusconi Tries to Keep Hold on Power

TRYING to silence critics of its stance toward anticorruption magistrates, the government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will ask Parliament for a vote of confidence. This move is likely to speed a showdown among warring coalition allies.

``The moment of truth is coming,'' said right-wing party leader Gianfranco Fini, a staunch Berlusconi supporter. A date for the vote was not immediately announced.

Relentless political sniping and open hostility between the government and the so-called Clean Hands prosecutors have produced an atmosphere of political crisis that has battered stock and currency markets.

Political commentators were predicting the government's days were numbered as splits in the conservative coalition deepened yesterday.

Mr. Berlusconi was interrogated yesterday for more than seven hours by prosecutors who suspect him of corruption.

Berlusconi, however, read a statement on television reaffirming his innocence and repeated his vow not to resign. N. Ireland is open for dollars, pounds

HOPING to sell international investors on a peaceful Northern Ireland, British Prime Minister John Major yesterday announced plans by five firms to expand their operations in the province.

The five projects, worth about $97 million, are expected to bring hundreds of new jobs to the British-ruled province, which is heading into what promises to be its first peaceful Christmas in a quarter-century.

All factions recognize, however, that peace must be intertwined with economic prosperity if it is to last. Unemployment in the province is 12.5 percent. ``I want people to see, with the minimum of delay, the benefits peace is bringing - to commerce, industry, and everyday life,'' Mr. Major told delegates at an international business conference in Belfast Tuesday.

United States Commerce Secretary Ron Brown pledged his government's backing for efforts to cement peace with economic success, while Sen. Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut said US businesses were ready to invest.

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