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Last Updated: Monday, 30 June, 2003, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Berlusconi immunity challenged
Silvio Berlusconi
In the spotlight: Italy takes over the EU presidency EU on Tuesday
A court in Milan has challenged a new law which gives Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi immunity from prosecution.

The court, which is trying Mr Berlusconi on charges of bribing judges, said the law may be illegal and asked the Constitutional Court to investigate.

Lawyer's for Mr Berlusconi denounced the court's decision as "political".

Mr Berlusconi is accused of trying to bribe judges to stop a business rival taking over state-owned food group SME in the 1980s.

There is a cancer in Italy that we must cure - the politicisation of the bench
Silvio Berlusconi
The trial is seen as a potential embarrassment for the prime minister as Italy takes over the presidency of the European Union on Tuesday.

The Milan court suspended the case, in accordance with the new law, until the higher court rules.

Correspondents say this could take several months.

'Left-wing press'

Earlier on Monday, Mr Berlusconi repeated accusations of bias against the media and judiciary.

"Eighty-five percent of the press is left-wing, and the judges are worse. There is a cancer in Italy that we must cure - the politicisation of the bench," he told French Europe 1 radio.

Last week, a prosecutor at the Milan court described the law as "openly anti-constitutional and opposed to the cardinal principles of our constitution".

Under the law, magistrates can investigate allegations against the five top figures, but cannot bring them to trial.

As well as the prime minister, the law also covers the president, the speakers in both houses of parliament and the president of Italy's constitutional court.

Mr Berlusconi is Italy's richest man, heading a multi-billion-euro empire that encompasses broadcasting, banking, publishing and the AC Milan football club.




SEE ALSO:
Profile: Romano Prodi
20 May 03  |  Europe
Berlusconi granted immunity
18 Jun 03  |  Europe
Brussels plays down Prodi row
06 May 03  |  Europe
Berlusconi set to ride out storm
30 Apr 03  |  Europe
Berlusconi in new court drama
17 Jun 03  |  Europe
Italian PM attacks judiciary
30 Jan 03  |  Europe


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