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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 November 2007, 22:09 GMT
Berlusconi to launch 'mass party'
Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi shows off a terracotta pot used to collect money from supporters in Rome on Saturday
Berlusconi has been campaigning for early elections
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's flamboyant former prime minister, is to launch a new party of the centre-right.

He told supporters in a Milan piazza the party would unite Italians "against the old fogeys of politics".

Mr Berlusconi said he hoped all his coalition partners would join the new party, despite recent criticisms by key allies on the centre-right.

He has faced criticism after wrongly saying that Romano Prodi's government would fall over a budget vote.

And on Sunday a key ally used an interview to criticise his strategy of trying to demand early elections.

Signature 'success'

Mr Berlusconi has for years said he wanted to create a single party that would unite Italy's various small centre-right parties.

The time has come when either the centre-right shows it can unite... or else we accept that the coalition no longer exists
Gianfranco Fini
National Alliance
Speaking on Sunday, he said the party he founded in the early 1990s, Forza Italia, had now collected seven million signatures around the country over the weekend in support of early elections.

He said so many signatures had been gathered he felt the time was right to announce the launch of his long-planned new party.

"Come with us, against the old fogeys of politics to form a great new party of the people," Mr Berlusconi said.

He said the new party - the Italian People's Party for Freedom - would be a "protagonist of freedom and democracy for decades".

He said it would be officially launched on Monday, and that Forza Italia would be incorporated into the new party.

Allies' attacks

Mr Berlusconi said he hoped his centre-right allies would join the new party, although commentators say many have never warmed to the idea.

On Sunday, the leader of the right-wing National Alliance, Gianfranco Fini, warned that Mr Berlusconi's centre-right coalition would collapse unless he changed strategy.

In an interview with La Repubblica, Mr Fini said the demand for early elections had been counterproductive.

"The time has come when either the centre-right shows it can unite, find a mission, offer the country a programme, or else we accept that the coalition no longer exists and everyone goes their own way," he said.

Criticism of Mr Berlusconi's performance was echoed by fellow coalition partners Umberto Bossi, head of the Northern League party, and Pier Ferdinando Casini, head of the Christian Democrats, reports said.

Mr Berlusconi had predicted that Mr Prodi's bill for the 2008 budget would be sunk in the Senate last week - but it was narrowly passed.

Profile: Silvio Berlusconi
26 Nov 06 |  Europe

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