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Europe

Italians vote on nuclear power and Berlusconi's immunity

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-06-12

Italians were asked to vote on the country’s nuclear programme Sunday, along with the issue of stripping Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of his legal immunity and privatising the country’s water supplies, in a three-part referendum open till Monday.

AFP – Italians began voting on Sunday in referendums on nuclear power, water privatisation and a law granting Silvio Berlusconi immunity in what is seen as a vital test for the embattled premier.
             
The nuclear vote will be an important marker of popular opinion on atomic energy in Europe in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan and after Germany this month passed a bill phasing out nuclear power by 2022.
             
If turnout is higher than 50 percent, a vote against nuclear power will definitively scrap the government's plans to re-start Italy's atomic energy programme by 2014, which have already been put on a temporary moratorium.
              
Voters could also strip Berlusconi of his legal immunity under a law that was approved by his government soon after his re-election victory in 2008.
             
The prime minister is a defendant in three ongoing trials, involving allegations of having paid for sex with a 17-year-old girl, bribery and fraud.
             
A Constitutional Court ruling this year curbed part of the legal protection linked to his duties but the 74-year-old can still invoke some immunity.
             
A strong vote against Berlusconi would add to signs of the growing discontent in Italy seen in local elections earlier this month, in which his ruling People of Freedom party lost key mayoral contests in Milan and Naples.
             
Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the leftist La Repubblica newspaper, said there would be "unpredictable effects" if the referendums are approved.
             
"I exclude Berlusconi's resignation but I do not exclude the implosion of the People of Freedom and of the Northern League," a junior but highly influential partner in Berlusconi's governing coalition, Scalfari said.
             
Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family, said of the referendums in an editorial: "They are a trick. That is why we are not voting."
             
Polling stations close at 10:00 pm (2000 GMT) on Sunday and are open again between 7:00 am and 3:00 pm on Monday. The result is expected later on Monday.
             
Figures released after voting closes on Sunday will give an idea of turnout.
             
Opinion polls conducted by political parties in recent weeks show turnout could be around 50 percent but a quorum has never been reached since 1995.
             
The nuclear referendum has received the most attention in the run-up to the vote but the issue of privatising Italy's water supplies is also a highly contentious one and there is also controversy over Berlusconi's legal woes.
             
Italy abandoned atomic energy with a referendum in 1987 after the Chernobyl crisis but Berlusconi had made its re-introduction a major policy goal.
             
The government argues that nuclear power would slash electricity bills, reduce Italy's energy dependency and be better for the environment.
             
Opinion polls show however that nuclear power remains deeply unpopular.
             
The leader of the Greens in the European Parliament, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, has called on Italians to vote against nuclear power, saying that a successful outcome of the referendum would be "an important signal" to the rest of Europe.
             
Referendum supporters have stepped up a "get out and vote" campaign in recent weeks with a series of rallies as well as some more unusual initiatives.
             
Beach resorts in the region around the southern city of Naples are offering rental of two deck-chairs for the price of one for people who have voted.
             
Voters are also being offered discounts in bars and restaurants across Italy, as well as free massages, yoga classes and even concert tickets.

 

Date created : 2011-06-12

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