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Hundreds of thousands attend pro-Berlusconi rally in Rome

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-03-27

Berlusconi's supporters attended the premier's "party of love" election rally in Rome ahead of regional polls. Berlusconi used the occasion to launch a blistering attack on his political enemies.

AFP - Hundreds of thousands of people marched through the Italian capital Saturday in a massive show of support for embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi ahead of regional elections.

Berlusconi used the occasion to launch a blistering attack on his political enemies, saying left-leaning judges and centre-left politicians had concocted "a laughable investigation based on the tapping of my calls."

The billionaire prime minister addressed a rally at a packed Piazza San Giovanni in Rome after two giant processions of supporters of his centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party had wound their way through the city.

"Do you want phone taps on everyone and everything? Do you want to be spied on in your own homes?" asked Berlusconi of the crowd, who roared back "No."

The Berlusconi camp is on the defensive after being hit by a series of embarrassments ahead of elections in 13 regions on March 28 and 29, and the premier's approval rating has dropped.

Prosecutors are currently investigating Berlusconi for abuse of power after tapping the prime minister's phone conversations.

The opposition slammed the rally.

"Today we saw a world turned on its head: a government that takes to the street and protests against opposition, instead of talking about solutions to propose for the country," said Enrico Letta of the Democratic Party.

"This is the only government in the world in which the head of the government rallies against magistrates," said Pierferdinando Casini, head of the Catholic UDC party, a former ally of Berlusconi not part of the current government.

Berlusconi, who last month likened the country's judges to Afghanistan's Taliban, has long claimed that "communist" magistrates have been out to get him in a series of corruption cases involving his sprawling media empire.

The PDL has seen its poll preparations marred by problems over its candidate lists in Lazio and Berlusconi's native Lombardy.

The party missed the deadline for submitting its list in Lazio and questions were raised over the validity of the signatures accompanying its list for Lombardy.

An electoral court allowed two PDL candidates to stand in Rome and Milan, but without a secondary list in Lazio.

"We are here to defend our right to vote," said Berlusconi, insisting that PDL officials "were there at the right time and with the right documents."

Rome police declined to offer an estimate for the crowd, but the PDL claimed more than a million people turned out in response to an anti-Berlusconi rally in Rome last Saturday.

At the rally, supporters from around Italy touted Berlusconi and his government's accomplishments and promises.

"Our youth needs to work, it's very important. The future of our youth is Berlusconi," said Giuseppe Sculeo, a 52-year-old electrician from the southern city of Bari.

"This is a government that is doing a lot for the Italian people but that has its hands tied because it's continuously criticized and mistreated," said Giuliano Carrozzo, a 65 year old local party organizer from the northern city of Milan.

A recent opinion poll showed Berlusconi's approval rating down to 44 percent, while his coalition government made up of the PDL and the anti-immigration Northern League scored only 38 percent.

"The centre-right electorate is disoriented and has lost confidence in its leaders, whom they see as disorganised," said pollster Renato Mannheimer.

Date created : 2010-03-21


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