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Berlusconi’s woes fail to rally the left

October 10, 2009

by Guy Dinmore, published  on 10 October 2009

Just as Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister dogged by sex scandals and court cases, was defending his record yesterday at a press conference broadcast live on television, a protest march by leftist students and workers passed largely unnoticed on the other side of the Tiber.

“These pieces of shit who are stealing our future! On to victory! On to victory!” called a student leader, his voice echoing over loudspeakers surrounded by red banners.

But despite the rallying cry, the mood among the thin crowd was distinctly despondent.

“Lots of polemics, but the left is splintered,” admitted Silvia Cannizzo, a 16-year-old high-school student, noting the disintegration of the radical left since the 2008 elections resulted in not a single communist sitting in parliament for the first time in decades. “Berlusconi should resign immediately, with all his ministers. But there is no strong voice in parliament to say this,” she said.

“The left has lost its way, lost its ideals,” lamented Federica, 23, distributing copies of La Commune published by the Revolutionary Socialists. “He will never resign with all his power.”

Indeed, although this has been one of the grimmest weeks for Mr Berlusconi and his media empire since he entered politics 15 years ago, the 73-year-old billionaire shows no sign of an early exit.

Patrizia D’Addario, a prostitute at the centre of reporting on his love of parties and showgirls, described on television their time together, paid for by a businessman under investigation for corruption. A court in Milan ordered Mr Berlusconi’s Finivest company to pay 750m euros damages in a civil case in which the judge said he was “co-responsible” for bribing another judge in 1991. And finally the Constitutional Court struck down a law that had given him immunity, paving the way for two corruption trials to resume against him.

Yet the Democrats, the main centre-left opposition party, could find no coherent response to Mr Berlusconi’s insistence that he will serve out his term, until 2013. Pier Luigi Bersani, likely to become the centre-left’s fourth leader in two years, said calling for his resignation “will only mean playing Berlusconi’s game”.

Early elections would be tough for the Democrats. Opinion polls show Mr Berlusconi remains Italy’s most popular politician. Most Italians who voted for him — and in such a divided country would likely never vote for the left – agree with his claim that he is hounded by politically motivated courts, a victim of his own success.

As the cameras rolled, Mr Berlusconi returned to this theme yesterday.

“I am the best prime minister there has ever been,” he told the televised news conference. “There is no one I would feel inferior to… I am the most persecuted person of all times, of all eras and in the history of all men in the whole world.”

He numbered 106 legal procedures against him, and 2,500 hearings, insisting he had been absolved “in all of them” and only twice benefited from the statute of limitations. He rejected as absurd the charges of corruption against him in the two Milan trials, which he has said he would fight in court and on television, a distinct possibility given that he owns the three main private channels and exercises political influence over Rai, the state broadcast that was yesterday under siege by the left-wing demonstrators.

Yesterday in Milan judges started hearing the appeal case brought by David Mills, Mr Berlusconi’s former UK lawyer who was convicted of taking a $600,000 bribe to give false testimony to protect Fininvest.

Lawyers for Mr Mills said they would call Mr Berlusconi – who had been a co-defendant in the case before his immunity — as witness to demonstrate their client’s innocence. Mr Berlusconi has also pleaded not guilty but no date has been set for his trial to recommence. Fininvest has also appealed against the ruling in its civil case brought by a media rival.

Mr Berlusconi told reporters he was fortunate to be wealthy, because he had spent 200m euros on “advisors and judges”. He quickly corrected himself. “I meant lawyers.”
Guy Dinmore

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