ROME (Reuters) - Italy is as corrupt now as when scandals toppled the political establishment two decades ago, Justice Minister Paola Severino said on Sunday as she tries to push through an anti-graft law.
The unusually strong comments come as the unelected minister tries to pressure the very parties being targeted by anti-corruption investigators into backing the law, on which the Senate will vote this week.
The legislation has languished for two years and must be passed quickly if it is to take effect before an election in six months.
Severino compared the current situation to that two decades ago, when a series of scandals brought down the Cold War political establishment.
"This is a second Bribesville, and it seems unavoidable to say so. The sheer number of cases that have come to light make it evident," she told SkyTG24 television.
The comment is likely to rile former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and much of the center-right.
Berlusconi, who supports the current government, has repeatedly said the "Bribesville" scandal was a coup led by left-wing prosecutors against the parties that ruled Italy for more than 40 years after World War Two.
Mario Monti took over an unelected government in November to save Italy from a Greek-style debt debacle, replacing Berlusconi, himself on trial for having sex with an underage prostitute and corrupting a public official.
Berlusconi's People of Liberty party has been the worst tarnished by the scandals, which are lifting support for populist, anti-establishment politicians.
A politician from Berlusconi's party appeared set to lose his post as governor of Lombardy over a corruption investigation. Last week, a member of Roberto Formigoni's cabinet was arrested for buying votes from the Calabrian mob.
The Northern League said it would withdraw support for Formigoni as governor of Italy's richest region and he said he would seek an early election - though did not formally resign.
The Northern League is itself still trying to recover from a party funding scandal earlier this year that forced the resignation of its leader and founder, Umberto Bossi.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Francesca Landini; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)