Berlusconi austerity measures given vote of confidence
Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has won a confidence vote to push forward his disputed austerity package.
The package, which has been changed 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 €54bn (£47bn) 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 authority and power to pass reforms necessary to stem the crisis, and have called for his resignation.
The premier has dismissed any such suggestion, and defended his government's handling of the crisis.
Greece, France and Germany are to discuss ways to contain the spiralling debt crisis and prevent it from further shaking up global financial markets.
Fears in recent days that Greece was heading rapidly towards a chaotic default have sent the interest rates on 10-year government bonds soaring to new record highs.
Yesterday they were 25.3%, more than the German equivalent, suggesting investors have all but given up on Greece being able to fix its public finances.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to calm fears this week and distanced herself from comments by her vice chancellor and others who suggested a Greek bankruptcy was possible.
The amount the austerity measures aim to reduce the Italian deficit by