Berlusconi agrees to help rival leader in Italy

In this Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010 file photo, Silvio Berlusconi gestures as he speaks on a mobile phone prior to a parliament debate, at the Senate in Rome, Italy. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca, File)

ROME: Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, booted out of Parliament last year after his tax fraud conviction, met Saturday with his chief political foe, the leader of the main government coalition party, and agreed to back reforms to finally make Italy more governable.

Someone pelted Berlusconi's chauffeured sedan with an egg and some catcalls went up as he was driven into the Rome headquarters of the Democratic Party, the political heirs of Italian communists the media mogul has spent decades loathing.

Matteo Renzi, the brash new head of Premier Enrico Letta's Democratic Party, defied critics in his own ranks to court the media mogul in what turned out to be a successful gambit for a pledge of support.

Berlusconi promised that his center-right Forza Italia party would back legislation to change the electoral system, a reform which has been bogged down for years by squabbling across Italy's fractious political spectrum and perpetuating a legacy of largely unstable governments.

Berlusconi promised to work for reforms that "will favor governability, a two-party system and eliminate the blackmail power of the tinier parties" in Parliament, Renzi told reporters after the more than two-hour meeting before rushing to catch a train back to Florence, where he is mayor.

Berlusconi said he guaranteed to Renzi that his forces would line up behind reform efforts to achieve "the consolidation of the big parties."

After the Democratic Party, Forza Italia is Italy's No. 2 party. Although Berlusconi lost his Senate seat in November because of the conviction, the 77-year-old media mogul still leads Forza Italia, his creation. He has insisted he can make a political comeback despite his judicial travails. Those woes including a separate conviction and seven-year jail sentence for paying a female teenage minor for sex and then using his office as premier to cover it up. Berlusconi's defense team hopes an appeals court will back his claim of innocence in the sex case.

Renzi, jockeying to position himself as the front-runner for the premier's office whenever elections might be called if the government should fall, risked rocking the fragile 9-month-old coalition by reaching out to Berlusconi.

Some prominent Democrats groused that their party headquarters host a convicted politician.

And ex-Berlusconi loyalists, who broke with the media mogul after his conviction to become the lynchpin coalition party, were miffed that Renzi would try to seal a deal with the former premier before the government's own ministers, including from their own ranks, could hammer out a reform package

"You make deals with many hands and lots of heads ... not two," said Renato Schifani, a leader of the New Center-Right party, which bolted from Berlusconi's fold last year.





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