Italian coalition survives vote, but cracks deepen

AP News
Posted: Jul 19, 2013 8:13 AM
Italian coalition survives vote, but cracks deepen

ROME (AP) — Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's main man in Italy's tense government survived a no-confidence vote Friday in Parliament, but cracks deepened in the fragile ruling alliance as some coalition lawmakers withheld support because of the minister's role in deporting the family of Kazakh opposition figure.

The no-confidence motion in the Senate, brought by opposition lawmakers, was aimed at ousting Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who is Berlusconi's designated political heir, as well as secretary of the media mogul's center-right People of Freedom party and deputy premier. Had the no-confidence bid succeeded, and Berlusconi yanked support in anger, the government would have tottered toward collapse.

Premier Enrico Letta urged members of his center-left party to support Alfano but several abstained because of the deportation case, aggravating the coalition's already shaky image.

Alfano has insisted he didn't know that Kazakhstan's ambassador in Rome had demanded that Italian police immediately deport the wife and 6-year-old daughter of Mukhtar Ablyazov, a Kazakhstan businessman widely said to have funded opposition parties and media in his homeland.

Police officials said the ambassador essentially ordered Italian police to raid the family's house in Rome to arrest the businessman. Ablyazov wasn't found in the police raid in May but the wife and child were there, and Italy caved in to the diplomat's demands to hustle the two on a private jet to Kazahkstan.

When the scandal came to light, Letta revoked the expulsion orders, but the woman and child were already in Kazakhstan. Alfano this week fired top ministry and police officials for the deportations.

While the vote was technically about Alfano's conduct, Letta in a speech to the Senate equated it to a referendum on his three-month-old government and urged the coalition to stay solid so Italy could pursue its uphill course of reviving stagnant economy.

A key senator in Letta's party, Luigi Zanda, voiced suspicions that the interests of Italy's energy giant ENI in Kazakhstan's rich oil and gas reserves might have made Italy susceptible to the ambassador's pressures.

Zanda also complained that Alfano had too many roles to properly concentrate on his responsibilities as interior minister, overseeing state police and implementation of immigration policy.