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Wednesday October 2, 2013 MYT 9:10:01 PM
Wednesday October 2, 2013 MYT 9:10:56 PM
ROME (Reuters) - Following are brief biographies of some of the main players in the political crisis that has threatened the future of Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta's 5-month-old government.
Centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi stunned lawmakers on Wednesday when he told the Senate he would support Letta in a confidence vote. The U-turn ensured the survival of the government that Berlusconi had been trying to bring down.
Berlusconi's party secretary and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano led a group of lawmakers who had defied Berlusconi's previous orders to sink Letta.
Berlusconi is fighting for his political survival after an August conviction for tax fraud that will leave him without a seat in parliament and serving a year under house arrest or in community service.
SILVIO BERLUSCONI - The 77-year-old media magnate has dominated Italian politics for two decades despite dozens of court cases and scandals, but a definitive conviction for tax fraud in August set in motion the current crisis.
The billionaire owner of the country's largest private TV network is one of Italy's most colourful figures, and its most skilful politician whose populist tax-cut pledges have made him an unrivalled election campaigner.
But his ability to take the stump ahead of an election will be severely limited as he serves his four-year jail sentence, commuted to one, under house arrest or doing community service.
He will also be stripped of his parliamentary seat and has other legal battles on the horizon, including an appeal against a conviction for having sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power.
Berlusconi ultimately failed to groom any strong successor, but there is speculation his oldest daughter Marina, 47 and chairwoman of his Fininvest holding company, will become the PDL figurehead.
The breakdown of unity in Berlusconi's party is a watershed moment for the man who has been the undisputed leader of Italy's centre right for 20 years and opens an unpredictable new chapter in Italian politics.
ENRICO LETTA - Though only 47 years old, he has been a member of the European political elite for many years.
Letta speaks fluent English and has a sound grasp of economics. He started out his political career as a young leader of the now-defunct Christian Democrat party which governed Italy for almost five decades.
Letta has taken a diplomatic approach to his first stint as government leader, seeking to appease both sides of his fractious right-left coalition.
In accepting the job from President Giorgio Napolitano two months after February's inconclusive election he made no attempt to hide the difficulties ahead for a country mired in deep recession and led by a discredited political class.
Unlike Matteo Renzi, his 38-year-old rival in the centre-left Democratic Party, Letta is a member of the establishment. His uncle Gianni has been Berlusconi's closest political aide of throughout his long business and political career.
ANGELINO ALFANO - Like Letta, the 42-year-old Alfano started out as a Christian Democrat, but in 1994 converted into a Berlusconi supporter and became a personal aide and factotum to the four-time premier.
Alfano, who is Sicilian, became justice minister in 2008, and until his revolt in the current crisis, was considered one of Berlusconi's most loyal followers.
In 2011, Berlusconi named him national secretary of the PDL, and appeared to be grooming him to be his successor, but he was often derided, even by members of his own party, as lacking character.
But Berlusconi himself once commented in public that Alfano did not have what it takes to be a political leader, although he still kept him as his party's national coordinator.
Alfano's declaration that he would abandon his political father if it meant the collapse of the Letta government, surprised many who had always seen him defend Berlusconi even in the most difficult circumstances.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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