Italian lawmakers brawl over pension reform

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi prior to a European Council meeting on Sunday at the EU headquarters in Brussels.

Story highlights

  • Lawmakers were apparently angered by remarks on pension reform
  • Plans to raise Italy's retirement age are controversial
  • Berlusconi and fellow European leaders are trying to hammer out a debt crisis deal
Italy's lower house of parliament was briefly suspended Wednesday after a brawl broke out among lawmakers debating proposed pension reforms.
At least two lawmakers from the Northern League, the main coalition partner in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government, exchanged blows with members of the opposition FLI party, Italian news agency ANSA reported.
Photographs from inside the parliament chamber showed two male deputies with their hands at each other's throats, while other lawmakers tried to pull them apart.
The fight was reportedly caused by televised remarks made by House Speaker Gianfranco Fini, of the FLI party, in which he claimed that the wife of Northern League leader Umberto Bossi had retired at age 39, ANSA said.
The deputy speaker was forced to suspend parliament for several minutes while order was restored.
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The issue of pension reform has been a subject of hot debate in the Italian parliament in recent days.
A crisis was narrowly averted Tuesday when Berlsuconi persuaded the Northern League to agree to his pension reform proposals, which would raise the retirement age by two years to 67.
Ministers had warned that Italy's government could collapse after the League initially rejected the plans.
Bossi was quoted as saying Tuesday: "'We cannot raise the pension age to 67. They would kill themselves."
Berlusconi has been under pressure from other European Union countries to come up with concrete measures to curb Italy's debt and boost economic growth, as EU leaders meet in Brussels to discuss Europe's debt crisis.
The latest talks have focused on three challenges: Restructuring the Greek government's crushing debt load, strengthening European banks and boosting the effectiveness of a limited rescue fund.
The need for a large and credible rescue fund is urgent as worries about Italy grow.
Italy, the eurozone's third largest economy, has one of the largest bond markets in the world, worth an estimated €1.9 trillion.
While Italy is in much better shape than Greece, the Italian economy has been ailing for years and the nation has debt equal to about 120% of its economic output.