Berlusconi vows battle over next president
Ex-premier expects centre left to nominate new head of State18 March, 19:22
(ANSA) - Rome, March 18 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Monday told MPs for his People of Freedom (PdL) party that he expects the centre left to hand-pick the next Italian president, rather than finding a consensus candidate.
He added that the PdL will "battle" against this "in parliament" and "in the streets", sources at Monday's meeting with the MPs said.
At the weekend the centre left, which came first in last month's general election but failed to win a majority in the Upper House, managed to get both its candidates elected as Speakers for the House and Senate, Italy's third- and second-highest institutional roles respectively behind the president.
Centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani of the Democratic Party (PD) is trying to reach out to Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) to find some sort of arrangement to govern Italy, but he has ruled out cooperating with Berlusconi.
The new parliament is set to start electing a new head of state next month.
President Giorgio Napolitano's seven-year term ends in May.
FOCUS ON ECONOMY, '3-PT LEAD'.
Berlusconi went on to say that the next government shouldn't worry itself with a conflict-of-interest law, but should concentrate on the economy.
According to people who attended a meeting of the party's members to elect a head of caucus in the Senate, Berlusconi reportedly said: "What is needed is an economic recovery and help to companies." Aside from brushing off talk of conflicts of interest, the PdL leader also said the government needed to focus on reforming taxes, justice and the costs of politics in Italy and said that the PdL was now three points ahead of Bersani's PD.
There has been talk of a conflict-of-interest law ever since Berlusconi, who owns Italy's three biggest commercial TV channels as well as its largest publishing group, entered politics in 1994 and swept to victory with his then Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party.
Observers have noted there is already a clause in voting rules declaring ineligible anyone with a State concession - a provision that has not been applied to Berlusconi so far.
But both the PD and the M5S have vowed to implement it this time round, unless Berlusconi is not blocked from taking office by one of his trials.
Berlusconi is appealing a four-year tax fraud sentence for film rights bought by his Mediaset group and a one-year term for publishing an illegally obtained wiretap, while he faces trial for allegedly paying a Senator to switch sides in 2006.
But it is his underage sex trial, involving a then 17-year-old known as Ruby, which has grabbed most headlines.
'RUBY' TRIAL VERDICT TO BE DELAYED On Monday it appeared that delays to the trial - many caused by Berlusconi's recent eye inflection - will mean that a Supreme Court ruling on whether or not his Milan trials should be moved to the nearby city of Brescia will precede the verdict.
On Friday, Berlusconi's defence lawyers asked for the ex-premier's two Milan trials - Mediaset and Ruby - to be moved on the grounds of alleged bias by magistrates he says are persecuting him.
The lawyers accused the Milan judges and prosecutors of being "hostile" to Berlusconi, as allegedly shown by their recent orders for medical checks that an eye problem which sent the ex-premier to hospital made him genuinely unable to attend hearings.
The trial had already been adjourned three times after Berlusconi spent over a week in hospital with a condition reportedly caused by someone poking him in the eye and the resultant high blood pressure. The court said the trial would resume on March 25 and cancelled the hearings scheduled to take place on Wednesday and Thursday.
Prosecutors, who made the court send medical inspectors to check on Berlusconi's condition last week, had asked the judges not to delay the trial again, saying the 76-year-old media magnate was in "contempt of court" for playing for time.
Berlusconi is accused of paying to have sex with a young Moroccan dancer, Karima El Mahroug, better known as Ruby the Heart-stealer, before she was 18 during alleged bunga bunga sex parties at his home.
The legal age for being a sex worker in Italy is 18.
Both the ex-premier and the woman deny ever having sex. She said money she received from Berlusconi was given as part of a gift.
Berlusconi is also accused of abuse of office for allegedly having used his influence when he was premier to spring El Mahroug from a Milan police station to hush up the affair after an unrelated theft claim, saying she was the niece of then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
The charge of having sex with an underage prostitute carries a jail term of up to three years, and abuse of office 12 years.
Berlusconi has faced more than 30 cases since becoming a politician.
He has been convicted three times but later acquitted while another three cases have been timed out by the statute of limitations, which one of his governments shortened.