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Defiant Berlusconi vows to fight

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Mr Berlusconi insists he should not be 'distracted' from governing

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says he feels "invigorated" after Italy's constitutional court overturned a law granting him immunity whilst in office.

"I will defend myself... and show what stuff I'm made of," Mr Berlusconi said.

The ruling means he could face trial in at least two court cases, including one accusing him of corruption.

But it does not mean Mr Berlusconi will be forced to resign, as long as he can keep together his conservative coalition, which dominates parliament.

His allies have stood firmly behind the 73-year-old billionaire prime minister.

Italy's opposition has called on Mr Berlusconi to step down, but his main coalition partner, the Northern League, has backed him.

The news has stunned Italy, where the prime minister's widespread public support has been damaged by a series of sex scandals and his wife's announcement that she is divorcing him.

While admitting he is "no saint", Mr Berlusconi denies having paid for sex or conducting improper relationships.

Wednesday's ruling means Mr Berlusconi could be called as a witness in an appeal starting on Friday by his one-time co-defendant David Mills, La Stampa newspaper reported.

The British tax lawyer - the estranged husband of UK minister Tessa Jowell - was convicted of accepting a $600,000 bribe to lie in court to protect Mr Berlusconi and sentenced in February to four-and-a-half years in prison for corruption.

Both men denied any wrongdoing.

Real farce

The 15-judge Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that immunity legislation pushed through by Mr Berlusconi's administration in 2008 violated the principle that all citizens were equal in the eyes of the law.

Silvio Berlusconi, 7 October 2009

Mr Berlusconi said he felt "invigorated" by the ruling, adding that he had expected it as the court was dominated by left-wing judges.

"Lucky that there's Silvio, otherwise we'd be completely in the hands of these gentlemen of the left," he said.

"I will defend myself in the courts, exposing the accusers to ridicule, showing all Italians what stuff they're made of and what stuff I'm made of."

Earlier, he had insisted that the charges against him were farcical and that his administration would "govern for five years with or without the law".

The Constitutional Court judges - five of whom are selected by the president, five by the judiciary, and five by parliament - voted 9-6 to in favour of lifting the 2008 immunity legislation.

The 2008 ruling granted immunity to Italy's top four standing officials - the president, prime minister, and two parliamentary speakers.

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Mr Berlusconi had argued that he needed the immunity legislation to allow him to govern without being "distracted" by the judiciary.

As a result of the law, corruption and tax fraud trials against him were suspended.

The appeal to the Constitutional Court was launched by prosecutors including those from the Mills case.

Even if convicted in the corruption trial, Mr Berlusconi could theoretically stay in power as, under Italian law, sentences are not usually served until all avenues of appeal are exhausted.

Over the weekend, a court in Milan ordered Mr Berlusconi's holding company Fininvest to pay 750m euros (£694m) in damages for bribing a judge during a takeover bid for the publisher Mondadori.

The court said Mr Berlusconi, who was cleared of criminal charges in 2007, was "co-responsible" for the bribery in the civil case as head of Fininvest.



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