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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 June, 2003, 22:32 GMT 23:32 UK
Italian senate backs PM immunity
Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi denies he has done anything wrong
The Italian upper house of parliament has approved legislation which effectively grants immunity from prosecution to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

It could indefinitely block the trial where he stands accused of bribing judges to further his own business interests.

Mr Berlusconi introduced the legislation, which grants leading politicians immunity from prosecution, after his lawyers failed to have corruption charges against him dropped.

The centre-right Italian prime minister denies any wrongdoing, claiming he is a victim of left-leaning Milanese prosecutors.

Lower house vote

The new law is eventually expected to include all members of parliament. Parliamentary immunity was revoked in Italy 10 years ago amid a scandal that uncovered widespread political corruption.

The new legislation was approved by the Senate by 146 votes to 101.

The law must still be approved by the lower house, but the BBC's correspondent in Rome, David Willey, says that this will be something of a formality as Mr Berlusconi has a clear majority in both houses.

Under the new legislation the five leading public office holders in Italy including the prime minister, the president, the speakers of both houses of parliament and the chief justice will be able to claim immunity from prosecution.

Time sensitive

Our correspondent says it is now a race against time to ensure that the new immunity legislation takes effect before Italy takes over the high-profile rotating presidency of the EU in less than a month's time.

One of the arguments offered by Mr Berlusconi's supporters in favour of the new immunity law is that similar legislation has just been enacted in the European Parliament.

Mr Berlusconi's Minister for Regional Affairs, Enrico La Loggia, defended the law saying it was "absolutely indispensable" to ensure that lawmakers remained independent and free from the threat of politicised prosecutions.

But the opposition was quick to condemn the decision saying it contravened the need for equal representation under the law.

"The right of defence - because top officers cannot stop the freezing of legal proceedings - and the principle of a reasonable duration of trials have all been violated," Green Party senator Giampaolo Zancan said.

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30 May 03  |  Europe
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30 Apr 03  |  Europe
Italian PM attacks judiciary
30 Jan 03  |  Europe
Country profile: Italy
26 Mar 03  |  Country profiles

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