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Last Updated: Friday, 5 September, 2003, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
Berlusconi stuns Italian judges
Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi: Caused a storm with politically incorrect remarks

The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has startled his country's judges by reportedly describing them as mad.

He is quoted as saying to two British journalists: "To do that job you need to be mentally disturbed, you need psychic disturbances.

"If they do that job it is because they are anthropologically different from the rest of the human race."

The Italian judges' association said on Thursday that it was unheard-of for a head of government to use such language.

One judge, Salvatore Scaduti of Palermo's Court of Appeals, said: "I am aghast at these off-the-wall statements."

Opposition politicians described Mr Berlusconi's comments as "delirious", while President Azeglio Ciampi said Italians should have full confidence in the judiciary, which worked to administer justice for all Italians.

Language barrier

Mr Berlusconi was interviewed last week by the editor of the Spectator magazine, British Conservative MP Boris Johnson, and journalist Nicholas Farrell.

I wanted to be humorous
Silvio Berlusconi

Parts of the interview were published in a Rimini newspaper on Thursday.

Mr Berlusconi accused magistrates of bringing down his last government in 1994 with false accusations of corruption - and of now repeating the accusations.

He said he had been the subject of more than 90 investigations.

His spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti, said the difference in language, and some "journalistic colour", had led to comments about specific judges being represented as comments about the entire judiciary.

Remark 'exploited'

A spokesman for Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia party said the prime minister was only saying what ordinary people think.

A law pushed through parliament by Mr Berlusconi's government exempts him from prosecution as long as he remains in office.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says Mr Berlusconi has once again put himself in the centre of a political storm by making free-wheeling and politically incorrect remarks.

Earlier this year, Mr Berlusconi compared a German member of the European Parliament to a guard at a Nazi concentration camp, prompting the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to demand an apology.

In this latest interview, Mr Berlusconi looks back on the incident, saying: "It was I who was offended: my government and my country.

"I replied with a joke. I wanted to be humorous. The whole of my parliament laughed. My reply was taken and exploited against me."

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