REPORTING FROM ROME -- Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s defiant billionaire prime minister, denied reports Monday that he intended to step down amid increasing pressure from politicians and investors who see him as an obstacle to resolving the sovereign debt crisis.
The denial from Berlusconi, who has repeatedly survived threats to his political life, came as reports swirled in the Italian media that he would resign ahead of a key budget vote Tuesday that could strip him of a needed majority in parliament.
The flamboyant 75-year-old, whose sex scandals, accusations of corruption and handling of Italy’s indebted economy have come under increasing criticism, was pressured at the Group of 20 summit meeting Friday to accept tight monitoring of the country’s finances and economic reforms by the International Monetary Fund.
On Monday, financial strains mounted on the Rome government. Italian bond yields spiked to a new euro-era high, raising the nation’s borrowing costs and reflecting growing worries among investors that Italy might be swept by the Eurozone debt crisis that has engulfed the region and forced leadership changes in Greece and Spain.
Speculation of Berlusconi’s departure was rampant in Rome, where camera crew were lingering outside the parliament building as if on a political death watch.
Mario Baldassarri, an MIT-trained economist and former vice minister of economy and finance in Berlusconi’s administration, eyed a large monitor in his office as it flashed news of Berlusconi’s denial. Back in August, Baldassarri said, he thought it would be just weeks before Berlusconi stepped down. But since 10 days ago, he said, “I started to say days.”
-- Don Lee
Photo: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has come under increasing criticism for his personal conduct and his handling of Italy's economy. Credit: Francois Lenoir / Reuters