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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 April 2005, 18:08 GMT 19:08 UK
Analysis: Berlusconi's woes mount
By Mark Duff
BBC News, Milan, Italy

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Mr Berlusconi has faced a storm of criticism over Iraq
Fresh problems have hit Italy's embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as he seeks parliamentary approval for his new government programme.

It has not been an easy few weeks for Mr Berlusconi, and it does not look as if things are going to get better for him any time soon.

As if it was not bad enough taking a pounding from the European Union on the feeble state of the Italian economy and from disgruntled voters at recent regional elections he now has to grapple with two newchallenges.

One is all too familiar to him - a court challenge.

The other much less so - the controversy over the shooting of an Italian intelligence agent by US troops in Iraq.

Legal wrangling

As he prepared to present his new government and legislative programme to parliament, Mr Berlusconi received word from Milan that prosecutors there wanted to charge him over alleged corruption at his Mediaset TV corporation.

Mr Berlusconi has long seen himself as the victim of what he describes as political persecution by magistrates, so his reaction to that news may well have been one of world-weary resignation.

He will, though, be thinking that he could well have done without the other problem in his in-tray. The row with the United States over the death of intelligence agent Nicola Calipari escalated on Monday when a US defence official said the investigation would absolve US troops of any blame for the incident.

Calipari died as he tried to protect a freed Italian hostage from US gunfire as the car in which they were travelling approached an American checkpoint near Baghdad airport.

The incident made a national hero of Calipari and posed all sorts of problems for Mr Berlusconi.

Anti-war movement

He has always been one of President George Bush's most steadfast supporters on Iraq, but the war there has been thoroughly unpopular with most Italians.

Pope John Paul II spoke out forcefully against it, and Italians turned out in their thousands and hung thousands of rainbow peace flags from their homes to protest against it.

The two countries tried to ease their way through any disagreement over Calipari's death by establishing a joint commission of inquiry to find out what went wrong at the checkpoint.

But the two Italian members of the commission are reported to have refused to sign the final inquiry report.

The US ambassador to Italy met one of Mr Berlusconi's senior aides on Tuesday to try to finesse a way out of a situation that is threatening to add a foreign gloss to his ever-lengthening list of domestic political woes.

Already, one opposition figure has accused the Americans of what he has called an "unacceptable act of arrogance" towards Italy, while the freed hostage - left-wing journalist Giuliana Sgrena - described the leaked report as a "slap in the face" for the Italian government.

What is already clear is that Mr Berlusconi now faces a tough choice between disagreeing openly with the US or trying to sweep the investigation's findings under the carpet.

Italian hostage blasts US report
26 Apr 05 |  Americas
Q&A: Berlusconi crisis
23 Apr 05 |  Europe
Berlusconi's balancing act
09 Mar 05 |  Europe

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