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Berlusconi wins economy cuts vote

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has won a confidence vote to push forward his disputed austerity package.

The package, which has been changed several times amid coalition infighting, is seen as key to Italy's efforts to fend off a financial crisis.

It aims to reduce the country's deficit by more than 54 billion euros (£47 billion) over three years through budget cuts, tax hikes and changes to the country's costly pension system. Italy's deficit to GDP ratio is now one of Europe's highest.

The government had called the confidence vote in the lower house of parliament in order to stifle debate and speed up approval. It won the vote 316-302.

Mr Berlusconi's conservatives hold a majority in parliament. However, if a government loses a confidence vote, it must resign.

A final vote on the package, which has already been cleared by the Senate, is scheduled for later.

Italy has come under pressure in financial markets because of its high debt levels and poor growth.

Mr Berlusconi met EU officials in Brussels and Strasbourg this week to reassure them of the government's determination to balance the budget.

He has come under criticism for his handling of the crisis, and because of the sex scandals that have plagued the 74-year-old's latest stint in power. Reported policy disputes with Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti and coalition in-fighting over the package have added to the doubts surrounding the government's stability.

Critics say a weakened Mr Berlusconi does not have the necessary authority and power to pass reforms necessary to stem the crisis, and have called for his resignation.

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