Premier Silvio Berlusconi's top adviser has hinted that, after months of political crisis and personal scandal involving the premier, the government's time may soon be up.
Fellow cabinet ministers insisted that Gianni Letta, Berlusconi's right-hand man, was only joking Wednesday when he said the government's prospects "seem in these hours to be narrowing not to years but to shorter periods and timeframes."
Berlusconi has insisted his government would serve the remainder of its term until 2013 elections. But over the weekend Berlusconi's estranged one-time ally Gianfranco Fini formally called on him to resign for the good of the country.
Berlusconi has been dogged by new reports of encounters with a prostitute and ties to an underage Moroccan girl.