Italy's economy minister has dismissed speculation that the government could collapse and ruled out any alternatives to the administration of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The opposition says Berlusconi will not last his full term ending in 2013 after a spate of corruption scandals and probes including one that forced a junior minister to resign last week.
Speculation has been rife that the government may collapse, prompting either new elections or the appointment of a transitional government by President Giorgio Napolitano.
In remarks published on Sunday, Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti dismissed speculation of a transitional government.
"The Berlusconi government is strong and there are no credible alternatives to it," Tremonti, thrust into a prominent political role after refusing to budge on an unpopular 25-billion euro austerity budget, told La Repubblica.
"Not a government of technocrats, nor a government alliance with opposition parties," he told the left-leaning daily.
Tremonti's own name has been mentioned increasingly often by commentators as the possible head of an alternative centre-right government, despite his repeated support for the premier.
Berlusconi similarly dismissed talk of alternatives to the government on Friday. Italian media have speculated the prime minister is mulling a one-day rally this month in a show of unity to shift momentum back to his side.
In the interview, Tremonti brushed off talk of friction with the prime minister over the austerity package, which Italian media have said Berlusconi feared was too harsh and would send his sinking ratings tumbling further.
"I've never threatened to resign, though I've often said I won't sign off on something," said Tremonti. "And in the end I've always agreed, positive and convinced."
However, he acknowledged that a judicial probe that has widened out from an investigation into bidding for wind power contracts in Sardinia and ensnared members of the government had exposed several "rotten apples".
The affair, dismissed by Berlusconi as a "shameless exaggeration" driven by the press, has seen senior figures in the ruling centre-right accused of forming a secret cabal to manipulate political appointments and judicial investigations.
"It's clear that it's not just about one rotten apple," Tremonti said. "It's something more. Maybe -- actually it's not a maybe -- a case of rotten apples has come out. But the tree is not rotten and the orchard is not rotten."
The comments come after Economy Ministry Undersecretary Nicola Cosentino resigned last week after being investigated over suspicions of trying to influence judges and smear a rival within his own party. He denies any wrongdoing.
He is the third member of the government to resign in two months over suspected wrongdoing.
Opposition members were quick to seize on Tremonti's "rotten apples" comment.
"In today's botanical lesson from Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti, the link to cause and effect is missing," said Massimo Donadi of the Italy of Values party. "When there are lots of rotten apples that fill entire cases, it's legitimate to fear that there's something rotten in the trees that produce them."