Italy’s Prime Minister Enrico Letta has been addressing parliament ahead of a crucial vote of confidence in his governing coalition.

Mr. Letta told the Senate the collapse of his government could be fatal for the country.

BBC reports that the vote was called after Silvio Berlusconi ordered ministers in his centre-right People of Freedom party (PDL) to leave the government.

But some key PDL figures have defied him, saying they will back Mr. Letta.

Mr. Letta earlier rejected the resignations of the five PDL ministers.

Berlusconi, a former prime minister, has accused Mr. Letta of allowing his “political assassination through judicial means” – a reference to Berlusconi’s criminal conviction for tax fraud in August.

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“Even though I understand the risks that I am taking on, I have decided to put an end to the Letta government,” Berlusconi said in a letter to the weekly magazine Tempi.

However, he appeared more circumspect on arrival at the Senate on Wednesday, saying: “We’ll see what happens. We’ll listen to Letta’s speech and then we’ll decide.”

Addressing the Senate, Mr. Letta said Italy “runs a risk, a fatal risk” if his government were to fall.

In an apparent break with Berlusconi, his deputy and party secretary Angelino Alfano said PDL MPs should back Mr. Letta in Wednesday’s confidence vote.

“I am firmly convinced that our party as a whole should vote confidence in Letta,” said Mr. Alfano, who is also Italy’s interior minister.

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