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Premier says judiciary 'political'

President voices concern over Berlusconi's attack

10 December, 18:13
Premier says judiciary 'political' (ANSA) - Rome, December 10 - Premier Silvio Berlusconi used a foreign forum on Thursday to renew his attacks against Italian magistrates, saying they have turned into a political force which has taken over parliamentary sovereignty.

Addressing the European People's Party convention in Bonn, the premier said the country's judiciary, including the Constitutional Court, has become a political party which rejects legislation approved by Parliament.

"A strange thing is happening in Italy which we'll have to deal with: according to the Constitution, sovereignty belongs to the voters and Parliament approves laws. But if the 'leftist magistrates' party' doesn't like these laws, it asks the 15 members of the Constitutional Court - 11 of whom are leftists - to abrogate them".

The premier told the assembly, which included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that his People of Freedom (PdL) party "was working to remedy the situation through a Constitutional reform".

He particularly singled out the Constitutional Court, saying that it had turned "into a political organ", attributing the trend to the appointments made by the last three Italian presidents, whom he claimed were all "leftists'.

"Consequently, sovereignty in Italy no longer belongs to Parliament but to the magistrates' party," said the premier who has stepped up his attacks since the Constitutional Court in October struck down a controversial immunity law which shielded him from several trials while in office.

The court argued that the Berlusconi government should have used a special Constitutional law to give the premier immunity.

The so-called Alfano law, despite being modified compared to a previous version quashed in 2004, was also overturned because it denied the fundamental principle that everyone is equal before the law, the court said.

"After the Alfano law was struck down...the prosecutors resumed their manhunt," said the premier, referring to two trials which have resumed in Milan.

Berlusconi is charged by prosecutors with bribing English lawyer David Mills - sentenced to four and a half years - to perjure himself in two other trials and for tax fraud in the sale of film rights by his TV group Mediaset. The premier said that "despite the hundreds of proceedings and thousands of hearings" which ensured him a "world record" for involvement in trials he had always been cleared.

Berlusconi, who has been in power for almost eight of the last 15 years, has been convicted in several corruption cases relating to his business empire but the sentences have always been overturned on appeal or annulled by a new shortened statute of limitations.

He has always denied wrongdoing, insisting he is the victim of a politically motivated judiciary.

"Fortunately, only a portion of judges side with the left and judges sitting in second and third appeal trials (in Italy's three-tiered judicial system) are fair, similar to those in other countries," said the premier, accusing the centre left opposition of trying to "get him" through the judiciary.

"Allow me to talk about my country for a moment: Italy is the third ranking economy in Europe, the government has a solid and united majority, a hard-working government and a super premier ...someone who had a 60% popularity rating after solving the Naples garbage problem and a 68% popularity rating after (dealing with) the quake in L'Aquila".

Referring to a spate of scandals over his private life, Berlusconi said the centre-left opposition had whipped these up in a bid to dent his appeal.

"Instead, these attempts have further strengthened me because people say to themselves: mamma mia, who else would be as strong and tough as he is, who else would have Berlusconi's balls?" Reactions in Italy against the speech were strong and immediate, with President Giorgio Napolitano voicing concern about "the violent attack against the institutions".

A statement released by Napolitano said the president was "deeply saddened and worried" over Berlusconi's speech, and called for "a spirit of cooperation" among political parties and the judiciary. House Speaker Gianfranco Fini, who though one of the founders of the PdL has distanced himself from Berlusconi with his recent liberal-minded stances, also took issue with the speech.

Fini told reporters in Rome he did not "share" the premier's statements and urged him "not to generate confusion about what is taking place in Italy and the government's real intentions" while abroad.

Berlusconi's reply to both was immediate and brief: "I'm fed up by the hypocrisy, I've got nothing to clear up".

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