Berlusconi wants removal of Italy's parliament speaker

The move follows a scathing attack made against the premier by Fini, whom Berlusconi expelled in August from the ruling conservative People of Freedom Party (PdL).

"The Rt. Honourable Gianfranco Fini's remarks, are unacceptable," Berlusconi and his coalition partner Umberto Bossi, head of the Northern League, said Tuesday.

They made the remarks in a joint statement issued early Monday after a late night meeting at Berlusconi's home in Arcore, near Milan.

Fini, in a speech to supporters Sunday in Mirabello, northern Italy, described his expulsion from the PdL as "an act of Stalinism". He said it meant the PdL "no longer exists".

Fini said Berlusconi, owner of a media empire, had a way of "confusing leadership with the role of company owners, which is a completely different thing".

He also criticised Berlusconi for seeking "impunity" through laws aimed at ending his ongoing corruption trials.

Berlusconi and Bossi said Fini was no longer fit to be speaker of the lower house. "His words are the clear demonstration that he is playing a role that is hostile to the ruling majority, which is wholly incompatible with the non-partisan role that the lower house speaker must play."

"For this reason, prime minister Berlusconi and federal reforms minister Umberto Bossi, will in the coming days ask to meet the president of the Italian republic to explain to him the gravity of this situation," the statement said.

Fini said in his speech he would not take steps to bring down the government and trigger early elections.

But Bossi, whose party has continued to make strong electoral gains, reiterated his call for fresh polls.

"In the end, elections will be necessary," Bossi said in comments broadcast by Sky TG24 television after the meeting. A vote before Christmas is "technically possible", he said.

Fini has 34 supporters in the lower house and 10 in the upper house or Senate. Unless the PdL allies with a centrist party, Fini's newly formed Future and Freedom group can deny the government a ruling majority.

One of Fini's closest allies, Italo Bocchino Tuesday deplored Berlusconi's attempt to oust Fini as "politically unacceptable and a violation of the constitution".

Fini helped create the PdL which was launched last March when his post-fascist National Alliance merged with Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.

The split with Fini has weakened Berlusconi, who has tied his government's future to a five-point programme of reforms due to be put to a confidence vote this month.

Opinion polls suggest his support is waning, undermined by a sluggish economy and a series of corruption cases involving members of his government and other PdL politicians.

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