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ROME – Italy’s billionaire media tycoon-turned-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was hanging onto power by a thread Monday after his legal woes, the defection of key allies, and the spread of Europe’s debt crisis threatened to force him from office.
Worries that Italy could be forced to default on its sovereign debt has been the biggest factor in Italy in recent days, sending ripples across the European Union, where leaders have demanded Italy take steps to reduce debt.
But the 75-year-old Berlusconi — hounded by court cases alleging everything from taking kickbacks to avoid paying taxes on movie deals to paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl — has so far been ineffective in confronting the country’s problems.
The day ended with Berlusconi’s razor-thin majority in parliament gone due to a series of recent defections, and calls from opposition lawmakers and some former allies for him to step down. Several Italian media even ran erroneous reports saying the prime minister would resign to make way for new elections.
Berlusconi, the founder and largest shareholder of the Mediaset television and film empire, took to the airwaves he controls late in the day Monday in his defense, vowing to solve the debt problems and serve out his term, which finishes in 2013.
The outcome is not yet clear: parliament is expected to vote on an emergency fiscal reform package Tuesday that analysts say will be seen as a kind of confidence vote on Berlusconi’s stewardship of the country. If he loses, the continent’s riches media mogul could be forced to quite politics and go back to his day job.
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