London: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition is under threat following a vicious catfight between two of his most glamorous allies.
Mara Carfagna, a former topless model appointed equal opportunities minister two years ago, and Alessandra Mussolini, an MP who is not only the grand-daughter of the fascist dictator but also the niece of Sophia Loren, are at loggerheads.
The trouble started when Mussolini took a photo on her mobile phone of Carfagna talking in Parliament to Italo Bocchino, a member of a group of rebel MPs who have split from Berlusconi`s coalition.
Mussolini then distributed it to Italian newspapers, accusing Carfagna of being a "traitor" to the government.
Carfagna, in return, called her una vajassa, which loosely translates as "screeching fishwife”. Now, Mussolini has threatened to boycott a crucial confidence vote in Parliament next month, unless she receives a public apology from Carfagna.
"I`m amazed that this comes from the minister for equal opportunities, it`s really the pot calling the kettle black”, the Telegraph quoted Mussolini as saying.
She then rubbed salt into the wound by making a very public show of kissing a senior member of the government with whom Carfagna has quarrelled.
"It was only a political kiss, not a real smacker. There were no tongues," she added.
Carfagna also announced her resignation as both a minister and an MP, amid rumours that she wanted to put herself forward as a future mayor of Naples.
After days of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Berlusconi appeared to have sweet-talked her into staying.
"It`s all sorted out with Mara. I spoke to her for two hours, she understood and she`s not quitting," he said.
But the real test for him will come on December 14, when the government faces votes of no confidence in both houses of Parliament. Defeat could trigger Berlusconi`s resignation and new elections – more than two years before his mandate is supposed to expire in 2013.