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Berlusconi about-face revives Italian government

Berlusconi: Italian government foe turned friend. Silvio Berulsconi made a U-turn and threw his support behind Italian Premier Enrico Letta in Wednesday's confidence vote.

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In a speech to the Senate, Letta hailed his 5-month-old government's successes and outlined his agenda to revive Italy's moribund economy and turn around its record unemployment. He warned lawmakers that Italy "runs a risk, a fatal risk" depending on the choices they make.

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"Give us your confidence to realize these objectives. Give us your confidence for all that has been accomplished," Letta said to applause. "A confidence vote that isn't against anyone, but a confidence vote for Italy and Italians."

Berlusconi's People of Freedom party has been badly divided ever since Italy's high court upheld his tax fraud conviction and sentence in August. But it has been thrown into chaos after several lawmakers and his closest ally and political heir Angelino Alfano openly defied him and said they would support Letta.

Alfano has served as Letta's deputy in the hybrid government and clearly thinks it has accomplished a good deal of the Berlusconi party agenda.

With Alfano sitting by his side, Letta appealed to lawmakers' sense of duty to not create any more upheaval, which has caused Italy untold financial loss in recent years. He compared it to Italy's great post-World War II economic boom that was accompanied by comparative political stability.

"The majority of Italians are telling us — I should say they are yelling at us — that they can't take any more of these scenes of bloodshed in the political arena, and (politicians) who fight over everything but nothing ever changes," he said.

Many center-left lawmakers, as well as ordinary Italians, have expressed disgust that the government was essentially teetering over the legal woes of a single man, since the crisis began over Berlusconi's attempt to avoid being kicked out of the Senate for his tax fraud conviction.

A law passed in 2012 says anyone receiving sentences longer than two years cannot hold public office for six years. Berlusconi has challenged the law's constitutionality and has accused judges who handed down the sentence of trying to eliminate him from Italy's political life.

Letta addressed his claims straight on in his speech to the Senate, saying Italy is a country based on the rule of law.

"In a democratic state, sentences are respected and applied, always with the right to the defense without treatment in favor or against individuals, whether they be citizens or senators," he said.

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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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