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Ex-ally urges Berlusconi to resign

The estranged former ally of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has urged him to resign for the good of the country.

In a highly anticipated speech, Gianfranco Fini raised the stakes in his feud with Mr Berlusconi, seeking to put the pressure of determining the future of the current government back on the Italian leader.

Mr Fini repeatedly attacked Mr Berlusconi, who has been engulfed in a scandal over his ties to an under-age Moroccan girl and alleged encounters with a prostitute.

He said he is still willing to be in an alliance with Mr Berlusconi to spare Italy early elections and bring parliament to the natural end of its term in 2013. But that would only happen, he said, if the premier agreed to conditions, such as relaunching the economy and changing Italy's electoral law.

"We can't go on this way," Mr Fini told supporters at a rally of his new party, Freedom and Future. "This chapter is over - or it's about to be."

Mr Fini urged Mr Berlusconi to "make the decision to offer his resignation".

"The premier has the honour and the burden to say if he intends to open a new phase, with a new agenda and new programme, discussing and taking note of other people's opinions," Mr Fini told supporters. "If he has the courage ... we'll do our part."

Otherwise, Mr Fini said, he would withdraw his minister and other cabinet officials from the government, forcing Mr Berlusconi into at least a cabinet reshuffle and further weakening his government.

Mr Berlusconi's allies dismissed the possibility of his resignation and vowed the government would continue to work as long as it enjoyed parliamentary support.

Mr Fini and Mr Berlusconi won the 2008 election together with a party they co-founded, the People of Freedom party. But after months of bickering, they had a spectacular falling-out last summer and Mr Berlusconi effectively expelled Mr Fini from the party.

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