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Intrigue, betrayal in Rome as Berlusconi fights on


With Silvio Berlusconi's fate resting on a group of party rebels threatening to pull the rug from under his government next week, the Italian prime minister is using carrot and stick to try to win over the doubters and pull off yet another parliamentary escape.

Estimates vary widely over how many center-right deputies will jump ship in a crunch vote on public finance in the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday. Berlusconi's message to potential "traitors" is clear: you have nowhere else to go and you will be rewarded if you stay.

The 75-year-old media tycoon has defied all calls to step down and is adamant that he can battle on.

"We have checked in the last few hours and the numbers are certain, we still have a majority," he told party followers on Sunday.

Newspapers have estimated the number of potential defectors at between 20 and 40, which would be more than enough to bring down the government, but in previous narrow escapes Berlusconi has proved his powers of last-minute persuasion.

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