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Berlusconi expelled from Italian parliament

Mixed reaction in Rome as Senate expels Berlusconi over tax fraud, with the veteran center-right leader calling it a day of 'mourning' for democracy.

PT1M22S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2yb37 620 349

Rome: Having spent months manufacturing procedural delays or conjuring political melodrama, Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday could no longer stave off the inevitable: Italy’s senate stripped him of his parliamentary seat, a dramatic and humiliating expulsion, even as other troubles loom on his horizon.

In the hours before the vote, Italian senators read speeches for or against Mr. Berlusconi, the once-powerful former prime minister.

It’s just unfair that they would condemn him when Parliament is full of people who are way worse than him 

Mr. Berlusconi responded with an outdoor rally in central Rome, transforming the day into a televised, split-screen standoff: on one screen was the former Prime Minister, declaring himself a victim of persecution and pledging to remain a political force; on the other, the Italian senate, with a majority of rival politicians, who finished their speeches and lowered the boom.

Expelled from parliament ... Silvio Berlusconi listens to the hymn of his party Forza Italia at the end of a rally in Rome before the Senate vote.

Expelled from parliament ... Silvio Berlusconi listens to the hymn of his party Forza Italia at the end of a rally in Rome before the Senate vote. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino

His expulsion came in a series of votes, and after a day of passionate arguments, the reaction in the chamber after the final tally was striking: a resigned silence.

Mr. Berlusconi, 77, is now staring at a cascade of stubborn realities. His removal from the senate means he is without elective office for the first time in roughly two decades and that he has lost the special immunities awarded to lawmakers.

With other legal cases under way against him – and the possibility that new litigation could be filed – Mr. Berlusconi is now far more vulnerable than when, as Prime Minister, he seemed virtually untouchable, batting away sex and corruption scandals.

He also is expected to soon start performing one year of community service for the tax fraud conviction that is the basis of his removal from the senate.

Moreover, a court in Milan has ruled that Mr. Berlusconi cannot seek any public office for the next two years. For a man who once dominated Italy with a ribald swagger, Mr. Berlusconi is suddenly a sharply reduced figure, having recently watched several long-time lieutenants break away from him.

Determined to show his political viability, Mr. Berlusconi bused in supporters from around Italy for the rally outside his palace in central Rome. They waved flags, braved the November cold and sang songs hailing their leader.

“It’s just unfair that they would condemn him when Parliament is full of people who are way worse than him, who have avoided taxes, stolen public money and worked against the people,” said Alessandra Abbate, 49, a supporter from Bologna. “This country would be nothing without him.”

Mr. Berlusconi appeared at 4:35 pm, before the senate had voted, and stood on a cheery, sky-blue stage erected for the occasion. He repeated his familiar complaints against Italy’s judiciary, blaming reckless magistrates for his legal problems.

“It is a bitter day, a day of mourning for democracy,” Mr. Berlusconi told the crowd.

Mr. Berlusconi’s undisputed reign as leader of Italy’s powerful centre-right political movement was dealt a crippling blow in July when the country’s highest court upheld a prison term against him on the tax fraud conviction. His effort to avoid expulsion from the Senate was fatally undermined earlier this month when his party’s unity ruptured.

Mr. Berlusconi’s longtime protégé, Angelino Alfano, announced on November 15 that he and other former lieutenants would refuse to join the former Prime Minister’s re-branded political party, Forza Italia (or Go Italy). Instead, Mr. Alfano formed the New Centre-Right, attracting many lawmakers in Parliament who had been committed to Mr. Berlusconi and eliminating the possibility he could beat an expulsion vote.

Despite his litany of troubles, lawyers for Mr. Berlusconi have dismissed as highly unlikely the possibility that he could face arrest over other legal transgressions that have shaped his political legacy, including paying for sex with a minor.

The New York Times