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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Berlusconi set to ride out storm
By Robert Greenall
BBC News Online

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is expected to survive the latest crisis facing his government, following the conviction of his friend and ally Cesare Previti on corruption charges.

Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi is thought to be stronger than in 1994

Experts say that while Mr Berlusconi is in a difficult position, his removal is unlikely to help his political opponents.

Reaction from the left has been muted, with no-one calling for the prime minister's resignation.

But there are suggestions that the scandal could affect his standing abroad, as he prepares to take Italy into the European Union presidency in July.

Previti was sentenced to 11 years in jail for using bribery to try to influence two take-over battles, one of which involved Mr Berlusconi's Fininvest company.

This time no-one has any interest in provoking a crisis, especially not the left
Francesco Perfetti
politics professor

And Mr Berlusconi himself on Friday faces accusations that he bribed judges to facilitate the take-over of the SME food group in 1985.

"It's an ugly situation for Silvio Berlusconi," wrote a columnist in the daily La Repubblica.

'No immediate impact'

But it is thought that the prime minister is in a stronger position than during his first period in government in 1994 which collapsed amid corruption allegations.

"I rule out the possibility that a conviction would have an immediate impact on the stability of the government," Francesco Perfetti, professor of politics at Universita Luiss, told Reuters news agency.

To talk about persecution and forget it was a normal verdict - which one can appeal against - means discrediting the role and institution of the judiciary
Antonio Di Pietro
centre-left leader

"This time no-one has any interest in provoking a crisis, especially not the left."

Mr Berlusconi's handling of the situation has been so skilful that opponents fear that any attacks on him could backfire, Professor James Walston of the American University in Rome believes.

"In theory it should be devastating for Berlusconi," he said. "But in practice it's less serious, because they have prepared the ground so well, saying that it's all a put-up job."

Some damage possible

Mr Berlusconi said after the conviction: "The persecution against Previti has been confirmed."

"The politicisation of a part of the judiciary is a problem which must be solved for the good of the country, its institutions, the Italian citizens."

However, despite his bullish mood Mr Berlusconi may still not come out of the crisis unscathed.

"It won't weigh enormously heavily on Italian public opinion, because supporters will blame the 'red' judges," Professor Walston added.

"The real problem will be abroad, particularly as Berlusconi is about to become the president of EU."

In the longer term, the affair could harm his hopes of becoming president of Italy, say observers.

'Slandering judges'

Meanwhile the opposition appears content to confine itself to defending the judiciary against claims of bias and persecution made by the government.

"To talk about persecution and forget it was a normal verdict - which one can appeal against - means discrediting the role and institution of the judiciary," said centre-left leader Antonio Di Pietro.

"It also means slandering judges who, across three years, have only done their duty and have never spoken, if not to announce decisions, rulings, verdicts. This means offending their career, job and personal dignity."

Communist Party leader Oliviero Diliberto said the government statement "subverts the democratic system".

Strongest condemnation of the government's reaction came from the judiciary itself.

"Nobody is allowed to discredit the judiciary - particularly he who, like the prime minister, is occupying the highest political job," said a statement by the National Association of Magistrates.




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


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