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Italy's new government faces second confidence vote

ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte's new government on Tuesday faces a second confidence vote, needed for his uneasy left-leaning coalition to remain in power, as it prepares to approve a painful budget law that risks splitting the already shaky alliance.

After easily surviving a first confidence vote in the lower house Monday, Conte is also expected to win the confidence vote in the upper house, where his fragile coalition, however, holds a slimmer majority.

The new coalition is made up of former archrivals, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the center-left Democrats. The new government will face its most pressing challenge after the Senate vote Tuesday evening. It needs to draft a painful budget law, which must be approved by Parliament by the end of the year, and avert a 23-billion-euro sales tax hike that would prove very unpopular with voters and would further hit Italy's weak economic growth.

Conte's speech in the Senate was received by both applause and loud protests, with the leader of the right-wing League Matteo Salvini openly attacking the premier for having "betrayed Italians" and heading a "government of fear," engineered only to stop his ascent to power.

Salvini's League now sits in opposition, after he pulled the plug on the previous coalition with the 5-Stars, triggering a political crisis in a move that backfired and led to the creation of Conte's new cabinet.

"I'm proud of not being part of this government," Salvini said in a heated Senate speech. "Sooner or later, Italians will head back to the polls. Whoever fears their judgment has a guilty conscience."

Conte has asked lawmakers to stop fighting and reunite over a program of radical reforms that will help Italy to come back to growth. On Monday, he unveiled a political platform that tries to combine flagship measures pushed by both the 5-Stars and the Democrats, often divided over key policies.

The new premier also stressed that Italy wants to regain a key role in the European Union's reform process. He called for less confrontation with Brussels and pledged he would work with Italy's EU partners to reform the bloc's stringent budget rules.

In a clear sign that a new, more-friendly phase has started between Italy and the EU, former Premier Paolo Gentiloni on Tuesday obtained a key portfolio in the new European Commission headed by Ursula von der Leyen, being offered the job of new economy commissioner.

Analysts see Gentiloni's appointment as good news for Italy, as Rome will need to negotiate with Brussels additional financial flexibility to be able to approve an expensive budget that needs to be submitted to the European Commission by mid-October.

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