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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 May, 2003, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Berlusconi backs immunity move
Silvio Berlusconi
Mr Berlusconi appeared at his own trial on Monday

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has strongly defended proposals to restore immunity to senior politicians, as he himself stands trial on bribery charges.

In radio interviews and a letter to the newspaper Corriere della Sera, Mr Berlusconi said the proposals were in the interests of the country rather than him personally.

Mr Berlusconi appeared in court on Monday, accused of bribing judges in an attempt to gain control of the state-owned SME food company.

The return to the constitution is in the interests of Italy and its electorate, not in my personal interests
Silvio Berlusconi

The measures, which would suspend the trial if passed, are currently being discussed by a parliamentary commission.

Mr Berlusconi could face an uphill struggle to restore immunity, as many opposition leaders are opposed to it.

Correspondents say that his conviction, if it happened, would come as a major embarrassment to Italy, which is preparing to take over the presidency of the European Union.

'Constitutional primacy'

Italian politicians enjoyed immunity from prosecution until 1993, when it was lifted during the Bribesville scandal that uncovered widespread corruption within government.

But Mr Berlusconi argues that the repeal was a mistake, exposing politicians to politically motivated charges.

"We need to intervene," Mr Berlusconi wrote in his letter to Corriere della Sera. "Not to give a hand to the prime minister to pass the exam of the [next] six months, which I can do well enough on my own, but to restore to parliament its constitutional primacy and its place at the centre of political life.

"The return to the constitution is therefore in the interests of Italy and its electorate, not in my personal interests."

Mr Berlusconi was convicted on corruption charges in a previous trial, but was later acquitted on appeal.

He has threatened to call snap elections if convicted in this case.

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