(AP) Government ministers in former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's political party announced on Saturday their intention to resign their posts, a move that raises tension in the fragile coalition government and increases the possibility of early elections.
Vice Premier Angelino Alfano's spokeswoman said Saturday the five ministers from Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom Party have decided to submit their resignations, but it was not immediately clear when they would formally do so.
The center-right is in an unusual alliance of rival forces with the center-left Democratic Party, which has been on tenterhooks since Italy's high court confirmed Berlusconi's tax fraud conviction this summer.
The announcement by the center-right ministers came after Berlusconi urged ministers in his party to step down, citing the 5-month-old government's moves to raise Italy's value-added tax. Tensions already were swirling around a Senate committee vote next week on whether to revoke Berlusconi's legislative seat due to the tax fraud conviction.
The resignations must be formally submitted to President Giorgio Napolitano. At that point, he must determine if the government can continue in one form or another, or if early elections should be held.
Democratic Party leader Giuglielmo Epifani called the center-right ministers' move "irresponsible." He said, "They are provoking a crisis and we must evaluate exactly what the consequences are."
Premier Enrico Letta warned on Friday that he will quit unless he receives prompt pledges of solid support in a confidence vote in Parliament on his government, which is struggling to pull Italy out of a stubborn recession.
Nearly all of Berlusconi's senators have vowed to quit, if a Senate committee votes next week to strip him of his Senate seat because of the conviction.