Italy president right to trust Berlusconi-centre-right official

ROME (Reuters) - A senior ally of Silvio Berlusconi on Friday played down the risk of an imminent government crisis, a day after President Giorgio Napolitano said he expected the bickering Italian coalition partners to maintain support for Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

In a message posted on Twitter, Angelino Alfano, secretary of Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom party (PDL), welcomed Napolitano's statement on Thursday in which he said he believed the media tycoon would not withdraw support from Letta's fragile ruling coalition.

"President Napolitano's confidence in Berlusconi is well placed," Alfano said.

The statement is the latest in a series of conflicting signals from PDL officials, who have swung between support for Letta and threats to bring his government down if Berlusconi is expelled from parliament over a tax fraud conviction.

On Thursday, one of Berlusconi's most loyal lieutenants said he had already recorded a video message in which could announce his withdrawal from the fragile coalition of left and right formed after deadlocked elections in February.

Only hours later, Napolitano issued a statement of his own saying that a government crisis would present "extremely serious risks to the country" and he expected Berlusconi to continue supporting Letta.

Speculation about the possible collapse of the coalition, a partnership of Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) with the PDL, has grown ahead of a meeting next Monday of a special Senate committee that will vote on whether to begin proceedings to strip Berlusconi of his seat in the upper house.

(Reporting By James Mackenzie; editing by Barry Moody)