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Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 07:52 GMT
Italian PM attacks judiciary
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi is accused of attempting to bribe judges
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has launched a scathing attack on the country's judiciary, a day after the Supreme Court rejected his request to have his corruption trial moved to the town of Brescia from Milan.

The premier had claimed Milan's judges were biased against him and would not give him a fair hearing.
I shall perform my duty as prime minister until the end

Silvio Berlusconi, Italian prime minister

Mr Berlusconi's request was made within the provisions of a recently-passed law allowing defendants to demand that their case be heard at a different court, should they suspect the judges are biased.

His critics believe the controversial law was tailor-made for Mr Berlusconi and his associates.

Political pressure

In a live TV address, broadcast during the main lunch-time news bulletins, Mr Berlusconi repeatedly accused the Italian judiciary of being politically-motivated.

"In a liberal democracy judges implement the law, they do not get involved in politics and especially, they do not 'resist, resist, resist' those who have been chosen to govern," the premier declared.

He was referring to former Milan prosecutor-general Francesco Saverio Borrelli who a year ago appealed to Italy's judges to resist political pressure.

In his address, Mr Berlusconi also said he had no intention of resigning - even if a Milan court convicted him of corruption.

"I shall perform my duty as prime minister until the end, until the end, without ever betraying the mandate conferred unto me by my electors," the TV quoted him as saying.

He added that "in a liberal democracy, those who govern on the basis of the voters' sovereign will are judged... only by their peers, that is, by those who were elected by the people".

This, he said, is because "the custom and laws of immunity and guarantee protect him from the risk of political persecution through the judiciary".

Opposition fury

The prime minister's attack on the judiciary triggered angry reactions from left-wing opposition leaders.

"If it is confirmed that the news bulletins have broadcast a tape made by Berlusconi's trusted technicians... this would be very serious," Paolo Gentiloni, an MP from the centrist opposition party Daisy said.

And Piero Fassino, the leader of the Democrats of the Left, described the speech as "arrogant and threatening".

According to Mr Fassino, Mr Berlusconi was displaying "outrageous behaviour... using an unacceptable threatening tone and asking for impunity, which no citizen can demand, even less so someone who is at the helm of the country".

Mr Fassino recalled that "the same Supreme Court had only a few months ago cancelled a Berlusconi conviction in another trial".

"So, the Supreme Court is good if it says Berlusconi is right, it persecutes him if it says something Berlusconi doesn't like. All of this is unacceptable".

Greens MP Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio said Mr Berlusconi's use of public broadcasting time was reminiscent of "totalitarian regimes" .

"To use TV as a megaphone to ask for immunity recalls more totalitarian regimes than the liberal democracies he was wrongly referring to," he said.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

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