Battered Italy PM asks if allies still support him

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ROME, Oct 25 (Reuters) Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, reeling from a crushing round of Senate votes and infighting by allies, demanded a clear show of unity from his fractured centre-left coalition today.

''It's time for all of the political forces in the ruling majority to clearly say whether they intend to continue to support the government, or if they intend instead to put their own interests above the country's,'' Prodi said.

Speculation is rife that the government may fall in November, when the full Senate begins debating the 2008 draft budget.

Prodi was given a taste of defeat on Thursday, when the government lost four votes on economic issues in the Senate, where its wafer thin majority is looking increasingly fragile.

''I'm not calling a confidence vote today, but I demand all of the political forces in the ruling majority respect the commitments that they assumed before the people (upon taking office),'' he said.

The prime minister would be forced to resign if he lost a confidence vote.

Prodi, speaking live on national television, said he would personally deliver his request to the heads of the nine parties in his centre-left coalition ''in the coming hours''.

The prime minister, who was elected in April 2006, was already forced to tender his resignation after coalition infighting in February, but managed to secure his post after winning a confidence vote in both chambers of parliament.

This time, bickering among of two of his ministers -- Justice Minister Clemente Mastella and Infrastructure Minister Antonio di Pietro -- have added to headaches and raised further doubts that his Catholics-to-Communists coalition can govern.

On Tuesday, Mastella threatened to single-handedly sink Prodi by pulling his tiny centrist party out of the coalition and thus stripping it of its Senate majority.

Di Pietro has attacked Mastella for trying to remove a magistrate from an embezzlement case in which Mastella himself and Prodi are being investigated.

Prodi was forced this week to voice his ''full confidence'' for Mastella to avert a crisis.

Di Pietro has publicly spoken of the possibility of replacing the current government led by Prodi with an administration picked by the president and full of technical experts, rather than party politicians.

Conservative former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose coalition is leading in opinion polls, is quoted as saying he will bring down Prodi and prepare for elections soon, possibly in March. He opposes a so-called ''technical government''.

Reuters AB VP0016

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