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ROME (Reuters) - Italian deputies exchanged blows in parliament on Wednesday as tensions over a tough economic reform program came to a head.
At least two deputies from the Northern League, a member of the ruling center-right coalition, fought with members from the opposition FLI party of speaker Gianfranco Fini. Two deputies grabbed each other by the throat as other parliamentarians rushed to separate them.
The parliamentary sitting was suspended for several minutes after the fight, which broke out because of sarcastic remarks on television by Fini alleging that the wife of League leader Umberto Bossi had retired at 39.
Bossi has steadfastly refused to make more than slight concessions to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on the League's objections to changing Italy's generous pension system as part of reforms demanded by European leaders.
Berlusconi will travel to Brussels on Wednesday with a letter of intent on reforms to boost stagnant growth and cut Italy's debt. [ID:nL5E7LQ0OI] But critics, including senior Italian bankers say firmer and more substantive undertakings are required.
"There is a climate of violence and intolerance," said Amedeo Ciccanti from the centrist UDC party. "We need to calm down because Italians are more irritated than us about this."
Writing by Barry Moody; Editing by Catherine Hornby and Mark Heinrich