Letta's Italian govt wins confidence votes

ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Enrico Letta's reconstituted governing coalition comfortably survived confidence votes Wednesday that were called after Silvio Berlusconi jumped to the opposition.

The Letta government easily won the votes in both the upper and lower chambers of parliament with the backing of a new center-right party that split from Berlusconi. In a speech to the lower Chamber of Deputies, Letta called for a "new start" and outlined his priorities for 2014, including stimulating the economy, reducing unemployment and reforming Italy's electoral law, which many view as contributing to Italy's political instability.

Letta took power seven months ago after no party won a secure majority in the Senate, forcing an uneasy coalition of long-time political foes. Berlusconi failed to bring down the government on Oct. 2, after party dissidents refused his call to withdraw support.

Berlusconi shifted his party to the opposition last month after the Senate took away his seat due to his tax fraud conviction. "I have always considered this experience as a passage from a situation of conflict between toxic enemies to a system of healthy competition between adversaries," Letta said.

Still there were signs of tension during Letta's address. He took on the leader of the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement, Beppe Grillo, for having invited police officers to refuse protection to Italian politicians being targeted in grass-roots protests cropping up in Italy.

Letta said institutions must command respect "even more so during bitter periods," and he warned against infusing politics with "illegitimate actions and words that endorse violence."

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