Berlusconi wins reprieve

March 10, 2010

By Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: March 10 2010

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s centre-right prime minister, won a reprieve on Wednesday night from his two trials on charges of fraud and corruption after parliament approved a law granting him and other ministers the right to avoid appearing in court because of their public commitments.

The centre-right government used its large majority to ram the legislation through the senate in a vote of confidence that cut short debate on over 1,000 amendments raised by opposition senators who protested in the chamber. Some wore shirts emblazoned with “Berlusconi go on trial” while others waved copies of the constitution.

Mr Berlusconi, a billionaire media mogul, is a defendant in two trials related to his business activities while he was in opposition. He has denied the charges.

Prosecutors intend to appeal against the legislation which will come into law after its signature by Giorgio Napolitano, head of state. The bill passed through the lower house in February.

Mr Berlusconi’s ruling coalition resorted to the device, known as “legitimate impediment”, after the constitutional court last October revoked an immunity law that parliament had passed for the prime minister in 2008. The government argues that Mr Berlusconi cannot govern while being dragged through the courts by judges and prosecutors he accuses of being part of a left-wing conspiracy against him.

An earlier attempt to end Mr Berlusconi’s legal problems, by cutting short the length of trials, stalled in parliament because of resistance from his own allies.

Mr Berlusconi, who is also on the defensive over his party’s bungling of its registration of candidates for regional elections at the end of March, on Thursday called on his supporters to stage nationwide rallies a week before the vote. Ignazio La Russa, defence minister, stepped in to manhandle a heckler who disrupted the press conference where Mr Berlusconi blamed the opposition and magistrates for his party’s failure to register its candidates in time for the Lazio region polls.

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