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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 December 2004, 01:46 GMT
Champagne toasts cloudy verdict
By Tamsin Smith
BBC News correspondent, Rome

At a glitzy hotel in Rome on Friday night there was champagne and chocolate cake at a party for Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia senators.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Mr Berlusconi's corruption trial lasted for four years

The annual Christmas bash.

But glasses of bubbly were also raised to toast the prime minister's acquittal.

And, like any good party, there was also music.

It was provided by Mr Berlusconi himself who crooned several love songs alongside his favourite Neapolitan singer Mariano Appicella.

In a hint that perhaps the strains of the trial had affected Mr Berlusconi's usually confident demeanour, he also sang one of his own songs, penned in a moment of gloom.

"Let's get away from here" the lyrics said, "away from business, away from politics. Let's forget and go to paradise".

Out of time

But is the verdict a blemish-free paradise after a four-year corruption trial for which prosecutors demanded an eight-year prison sentence?

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wipes his brow
Mr Berlusconi's lawyer is seeking a full acquittal

There was indeed a clear "not guilty" handed down by the judges on the count of general corruption to influence a business deal.

But alongside is a rather more cloudy verdict which comes under the statute of limitations.

This cleared Mr Berlusconi of specifically authorising of a $434,404 (227,080) bribe to a judge, by invoking a ruling that meant time since the alleged offence had run out.

The publication of the court proceedings in 60 days is expected to shed some light on the reasons for this.

Mr Berlusconi's lawyer said that the prime minister will appeal this verdict and seek a full acquittal which means his name is perhaps not as clean as he would like.

"This was a half-baked sentence," said former Italian President Francesco Cossiga.

"And because Berlusconi is no ordinary citizen, he has the institutional duty toward the republic to resign."

'This isn't the end'

Ordinary Italians have mixed feelings that this trial is over.

There is relief that the tortuous legal wrangling is finished and resignation that Italian justice was never likely to convict Italy's most powerful man.

"This verdict was expected," said Stefano, on his way home from work, "He's a very important person so is treated in different way, even if he says the magistrates hate him."

"I think that Berlusconi is in a default position," says Lorenzo, an architect, "He must have been involved in controversial stuff in the past for this to come to trial in the first place. This isn't the end."

"We elected Berlusconi knowing him he never sold himself as Mr Clean, so as long as he hasn't committed a scandal as prime minister, we don't mind too much," said a taxi driver.

"He should get on with sorting out the economic mess our country is in now."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
What this judgement will mean for Italian politics



SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Berlusconi trial
10 Dec 04 |  Europe
Berlusconi immunity thrown out
14 Jan 04 |  Europe
Profile: Silvio Berlusconi
13 Jan 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Italy
26 Mar 03 |  Country profiles


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