April 20, 2018 / 1:38 PM / a month ago

Italy's Berlusconi smears 5-Star, urges government deal with left

ROME (Reuters) - Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi branded the 5-Star Movement a danger for Italy on Friday, killing off any lingering chance of a coalition tie-up between his rightist bloc and the anti-establishment party.

Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi looks on as League party leader Matteo Salvini (not seen) speaks following a talk with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinale palace in Rome, Italy, April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Berlusconi and his allies, including the far-right League, won the most seats in last month’s national election, while the 5-Star emerged as the largest single party.

However, both sides fell well short of an absolute majority and efforts by the Italian president to put together a new government have made little progress, with multiple vetoes put forward by various parties making his task almost impossible.

Latest efforts to overcome the impasse this week appeared to make no headway, and President Sergio Mattarella’s office said the head of state would consider the situation over the weekend before deciding what to do next.

5-Star, which promises a crusade against entrenched corruption, has said it is willing to join forces with the League, but not Berlusconi, whose long political career has been dogged by graft and sex scandals.

Earlier this week, media tycoon Berlusconi said he would have no problem working with 5-Star, but on Friday he angrily slammed the anti-system party and urged his allies to reconsider their refusal to seek a pact with the defeated center-left.

“The 5-Star are a danger for the country. It is not a democratic party, it is a party for the unemployed,” he said during a visit to Molise, a southern region that is holding local elections at the weekend.

“In my company, I would hire them to scrub the toilets,” he added, using unusually strong language even for Berlusconi. Italians “voted very badly” last month, he said, and the center-left Democratic Party (PD) was “light years” ahead of 5-Star.

TIE-UP WITH CENTER-LEFT?

Later on Friday, Berlusconi said governing with 5-Star was no longer “desirable or possible”, adding that the center-right should seek a majority in parliament, presumably with the PD.

But League leader Matteo Salvini, the de-facto head of the increasingly fractious rightist camp, has appeared increasingly frustrated with Berlusconi and he rejected a deal with the PD.

“Until yesterday the (center-right) alliance was unified,” Salvini told reporters in Milan. “If someone pulls out (of the alliance) using insults and looking to the left, the choice is that person’s alone,” he added, in reference to Berlusconi.

Salvini also said he would like to be given a mandate by the president to see if he could form a government. However, he declined to say if this meant he was ready to abandon Berlusconi and do a deal directly with 5-Star, something he has refused to countenance up until now.

“I am certainly not going to ask for votes from the PD,” he said.

If ultimately Salvini stays true to his word and declines to break his alliance, the president has few options left to resolve the stalemate.

One would be to try to convince the 5-Star and PD to work together. Another would be to seek consensus for a non-political government of technocrats tasked with re-writing the electoral law and prepare for a return to the polls next spring.

Additional reporting by Sara Rossi in Milan and Steve Scherer in Rome; Editing by Gareth Jones

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