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Berlusconi expelled from Senate in landmark vote

'Italy should be ashamed of itself' says daughter Marina

27 November, 20:08
Berlusconi expelled from Senate in landmark vote (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, November 27 - The Italian Senate on Wednesday voted to eject ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi after the supreme court upheld a tax-fraud conviction against him in August, making it definitive. "This is a bitter day of mourning for democracy," the 77-year-old media magnate told supporters assembled before his Rome residence as his ouster looked inevitable shortly before the vote. Premier Enrico Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) were the main backers of his ejection and formed a majority. The three-time premier says the tax-fraud sentence, his first-ever binding conviction in two decades of legal battles, is part of a campaign of persecution by left-wing elements in the judiciary who allegedly want to sweep him from the country's political arena. He also argues that the 2012 anti-corruption law enacted in the vote is being applied retroactively in his case, which is against the Italian Constitution. The anti-corruption law was adopted before the supreme court upheld the tax-fraud conviction, although the original sentence predates it. The three-time premier has said his ejection would be a "coup" and is furious that the PD backed the bid, accusing the party of "political homicide".

PD chief Guglielmo Epifani said expelling Berlusconi was the right thing to do. "The Senate did its duty and applied the law. Anything else would have been the law of the jungle," the party secretary said. "Those who cry coup and threaten disaster are choosing the road of adventure". Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia party pulled its support from Letta's left-right coalition government and joined the opposition on Tuesday. Letta's government has managed to stay afloat with the support of Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano's New Centre Right (NCD) party, which is made up of moderates who this month split from Berlusconi's loyalists. "Justice reform must not be omitted from the government's agenda," said Alfano shortly Berlusconi's ouster passed the Senate vote. "It's an ugly day for parliament in Italy". The NCD was against Berlusconi being ejected but its members rebelled against the ex-premier's stance on withdrawing backing from the government over the issue, saying Italy cannot afford more political instability as it seeks to emerge from its longest recession in over 20 years. The billionaire spoke at a rally outside his Rome home just as Senate voting began. Organizers said 20,000 supporters turned out, waving signs that read "I love Silvio, I love freedom" and "You don't question Silvio, you love him," among others.

Many supporters even donned black armbands. "Death is not ruled out for traitors," read one of the banners aimed against Alfano and the NCD.

"The (supreme court) ruling against me cries out for vengeance before God and men," Berlusconi told the crowd from a podium minutes before the outcome of the vote was official. "The judiciary wants to rule in favor of socialism and against capitalism". Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso dismissed several objections from centre-right lawmakers that Wednesday's vote should be secret. The Senate panel that recommended Berlusconi's ejection said the vote should be open, not secret as is traditional in such cases, amid speculation that some PD and M5S members, along with enough centrists, would take advantage of the secrecy of the ballot to save Berlusconi from expulsion. Berlusconi vowed not to "retire to a monastery" following the vote, adding he will continue to lead his party even if he is no longer an MP in the same way that comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo does from outside parliament with the M5S. But the ex-premier has said he fears being at the mercy of Italian prosecutors if he loses his parliamentary immunity from being arrested and wiretapped.

He is appealing a seven-year sentence for sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power to cover it up and a one-year sentence for involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap.

Berlusconi has been indicted on charges of bribing a Senator to switch sides too.

The 77-year-old was sentenced to four years in jail for the tax-fraud sentence, commuted to a year because of an amnesty. He has requested to serve the year by doing community service rather than under house arrest. The media magnate is too old to actually go to jail under Italian law.

Meanwhile his daughter Marina, long touted as his political heir, was among the most vocal to come to his defence. "My father has been expelled from the Senate, but today's vote does nothing to his leadership and his duty. This country and this democracy should be ashamed of themselves for what he is going through," said Marina, head of the family holding company Fininvest. "Italian politics should beg forgiveness for once again giving in to a judiciary bent on destroying whoever tries to check its excessive power".