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Italy's Fini defiant after clash with Berlusconi

ROME, April 25 (Reuters) - Italian right-wing leader Gianfranco Fini showed no regrets on Sunday after clashing with ally and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and said he would only respect party decisions that have been properly discussed.

Fini and Berlusconi, joint founders of the ruling People of Freedom party, publicly crossed swords at a party congress on Thursday, when Fini accused his boss of stifling internal debate and giving too much power to the pro-autonomy Northern League.

Speaking in a television interview on Sunday, Fini said he was proud of having “torn the veil of hypocrisy” that gave a false impression of blanket internal party agreement.

Fini said he had no intention of heeding Berlusconi’s call for him to resign as speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, and he and his followers would “only respect party decisions that are discussed and motivated”.

The half-hour interview was Fini’s first public appearance since the clash which has dominated Italian media for the last three days and fuelled speculation about how long the centre-right government can last.

Berlusconi’s leadership “cannot and must not cancel out ... the possibility of different opinions, sometimes of dissent,” he said.

Fini, viewed as a possible successor to the 73-year-old Berlusconi as prime minister, mixed his defiance with pledges of loyalty to the government, while rejecting the idea of early elections and denying he had any plans to form a separate party.

“Even talking about early elections is irresponsible,” he said, saying the fall of the government would expose Italy to “an enormous risk of ending up like Greece,” in reference to the Mediterranean country’s debt crisis.

“I have no intention of forming another party. I plan to continue discussing inside my own party about some political problems,” Fini said. (Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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