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Italian Premier Faces Parliament

October 7, 1998

ROME (AP) _ A breakaway faction of Italy’s Communist party indicated Wednesday it would take up Premier Romano Prodi’s appeal for support, boosting the chances that the center-left government could survive a confidence vote.

The Communist Refoundation party, led by Fausto Bertinotti, decided over the weekend to withdraw support for Prodi, saying the proposed 1999 budget did not do enough to stimulate jobs, particularly in Italy’s lesser developed south, where the jobless rate runs about double the national average of 12.5 percent.

Prodi, who has relied on the Communists’ votes in the lower Chamber of Deputies throughout his 2 1/2-year term for a majority, was forced to call the confidence vote, expected Friday, to determine whether his coalition still commands a majority.

Arguing that Italy needs political stability to maintain its place within Europe and the European Monetary Union, Prodi went before Parliament earlier Wednesday and appealed to his frayed majority to reunite.

``I don’t think that any of the forces in the majority can hold back their support,″ Prodi told lawmakers. ``I think that even you, Bertinotti, must be feeling the same weight and the same responsibilities that we feel.″

Hours after Prodi spoke, the Communists’ No. 2, Armando Cossutta, told hundreds of his followers that it was time to ``disobey″ the party’s hard-line stance and support Prodi despite unhappiness over the budget.

On Monday, Cossutta resigned as party president, calling Bertinotti’s tactics ``wrong and dangerous.″

Communist leaders in Parliament said the next day that they would heed Cossutta’s appeal to prevent the government from falling, but it was still unclear how each deputy would vote.

With votes from Cossutta’s faction, Prodi would be just shy of a majority in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies, but a few abstentions and some stray votes from centrist lawmakers in the opposition could be enough to win the confidence vote.

Prodi has outlasted all postwar premiers except Socialist Bettino Craxi, who was premier from 1983 to 1987. Prodi’s is Italy’s 55th government since World War II.

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