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Berlusconi denies rift over Italy austerity cuts

Berlusconi denies rift over Italy austerity cuts
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“There is no clash within the government.” So says Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, denying he is unhappy with austerity measures worth more than 24 billion euros, drawn up by his economy minister.

According to media reports, the premier fears the cuts earmarked by Giulio Tremonti are too severe and will further dent his dipping popularity ratings.

But at a news conference, Berlusconi put his full weight behind sacrifices he described as “indispensable” to save the euro currency.

“It is also to defend salaries, pensions, families’ savings and businesses’ incomes. Defending the euro today means protecting Italy’s future,” he said.

Measures like freezing state workers’ salaries and cutting funding to regional governments are aimed at reducing Italy’s deficit to 2.7 per cent of GDP in 2012. But critics claim the two year package will hit the poorest workers hardest and spare the rich.

“We will oppose this inside and outside parliament with demonstrations and strikes so that the costs of this crisis are paid by those who have caused it,” said opposition politician Antonio di Pietro.

There have already been pledges of industrial action, with Italy’s largest union announcing plans for a general strike next month.