Italian senate expels Berlusconi from parliament
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Silvio Berlusconi was expelled from the Italian parliament on Wednesday because of his tax fraud conviction. But the 77-year-old former prime minister will remain a force in Italian politics.
The Italian Senate on Wednesday expelled Silvio Berlusconi over his tax fraud conviction.
The expulsion means that Berlusconi, who has been prime minister of Italy three times, cannot serve in the legislature for at least six years. It does not mean the 77-year-old’s political career is over.
The Senate speaker declared he was ineligible for a seat in parliament after the house rejected a series of challenges by Berlusconi's supporters to a proposal for his expulsion. No formal vote was held.
Berlusconi, a media mogul, was sentenced in August to four years in prison, commuted to a year under house arrest or in community service, for an illegal scheme to reduce the tax bill of his media company Mediaset.
Stripped of his parliamentary immunity, he is more vulnerable in a series of other cases, where he is accused of offences including political bribery and paying for sex with a minor.
The decision drew a a defiant response from Berlusconi who vowed to continue leading his Forza Italia party and fight on outside parliament.
As the senate was making its decision, Berlusconi addressed a rally of supporters outside his Rome palazzo, underlining that he will remain a troublesome opponent to the government.
"We are here on a bitter day, a day of mourning for democracy," he said.
"I'm not going to be retiring to some convent," he told supporters. "We're staying here!"
Berlusconi has dominated politics in Italy for two decades. He has already pulled his party, Forza Italia, out of Enrico Letta's coalition, accusing leftwing opponents of a "coup d'état" to eliminate him.
However he no longer commands enough support in parliament to bring down the government, which easily won a confidence vote on the 2014 budget late on Tuesday with the support of around 30 dissidents who split from Forza Italia this month.
Letta said Wednesday that his government was now "stronger and more cohesive" and said it would press on with its reform programme.
The political battle over Berlusconi’s fate has hampered reform of Italy's stagnant economy, which is stuck in a recession that has lasted more than two years.
Berlusconi joined Letta's Democratic Party in an unlikely coalition after the February election. But relations were rocky from the start and were worsened by rows over tax policy and tensions over Berlusconi's tax fraud conviction in August.
An Italian television station reported this week that since the election, Berlusconi had attended just one senate session, and that was when he did an about-face and backed the Letta government in a confidence vote after threatening to bring it down.
Berlusconi was expelled under a 2012 law that bans anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison from holding or running for public office for six years. He says he did not receive a fair trial and that the judges were biased and out to "eliminate'' him from public office.
His lawyers claim the law is unconstitutional and have questioned the rush to expel him while legal challenges are still pending.
At his rally Wednesday, which political commentators said was essentially the start of Italy's next electoral campaign, Berlusconi harangued his enemies.
"Today they are toasting because they can take an adversary, they say a friend, in front of the executioner's squad,'' Berlusconi said. "It is the day they have been waiting for 20 years.''
"From outside the Parliament, we can continue to fight for our liberty,'' he said.
Supporters were treated to a video montage of Berlusconi's greatest political hits from a career that began in 1994 when he first came into power with a political party named after a soccer chant.
Last week, Berlusconi sent a letter to opposition senators warning them that kicking a three-time premier out of public office would tarnish Italy's image abroad and weigh on their consciences, "a responsibility that in the future will shame you in front of your children, your electors and all Italians.''
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)