Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Berlusconi booted from Italy's Senate

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ROME -- Three-time former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi was ousted from Parliament Wednesday after two decades as a lawmaker, calling it "a day of mourning for democracy" and vowing to stay in politics.

After weeks of manoeuvring, appeals and even an attempt to bring down the government, Berlusconi's delay tactics ran their course when the Senate voted to kick him out of the chamber due to a tax-fraud conviction.

Ever a populist, the 77-year-old billionaire chose the piazza over the Senate floor, addressing a crowd of cheering supporters outside his Roman palazzo as the vote was under way just a short walk away.

"We are here on a bitter day, a day of mourning for democracy," Berlusconi declared. He said his political enemies -- including the judiciary he accuses of mounting a campaign against him -- were "toasting" his demise.

"They are actually euphoric," he said.

Berlusconi pledged to remain in politics -- effectively launching a campaign in which he won't be able to stand for office -- noting other political leaders are not lawmakers.

He cited Beppe Grillo, the former comic and founder of the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement, and Matteo Renzi, the Florence mayor who is a Democratic Party star widely tipped as a future premier candidate.

The Senate vote bars Berlusconi from running or holding office for at least six years under a 2012 law applied to anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison.

Berlusconi was sentenced to four years on a tax-fraud conviction relating to the purchase of TV rights to U.S. films on his Mediaset network, charges he continues to deny. The sentence was cut to one year by an amnesty, which he will serve either under house arrest or doing public service.

In the last election, Berlusconi's now-defunct and splintered People of Freedom Party garnered 7.3 million votes, or 21.5 per cent of the vote. Berlusconi's charisma remains compelling to many Italians despite his judicial woes.

"I think for the time being he still controls a substantial number of voters," said Roberto D'Alimonte, a political analyst at Rome's LUISS University. "He hasn't lost the hardcore voters."

But D'Alimonte said to maintain them he will have to "be aggressive, be his usual Berlusconi" and not appear to be weakening, even physically due to age.

Berlusconi faces other legal problems, including a seven-year prison term and lifetime ban from holding public office for his conviction of paying an underage prostitute for sex at his "bunga bunga" parties and trying to cover it up.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 28, 2013 A16

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