Page last updated at 00:33 GMT, Saturday, 27 February 2010

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi attacks 'Taliban' judiciary

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi waves as he leaves a memorial Mass for his mother in Rome, 26 February
Mr Berlusconi faces regional elections next month

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, embroiled in two trials for fraud, has likened Italian prosecutors and judges to the Afghan Taliban.

He told a rally in the northern city of Turin that they were waging a subversive, political campaign to bring down his government.

He spoke after a UK lawyer accused of taking a bribe from him had the conviction quashed.

Magistrates condemned Mr Berlusconi's "insults and aggression".

The country's highest court, the Court of Cassation, quashed the 2009 conviction of British tax lawyer David Mills relating to a $600,000 (£400,000) payment made in 1999.

Prosecutor Gianfranco Ciani maintained Mr Mills had taken a bribe but said the conviction should be overturned because the statute of limitations had expired.

A parallel corruption case against Mr Berlusconi may now also be dropped on this basis.

'Intolerable escalation'

Addressing an election rally in Turin, Mr Berlusconi said there was "a subversive aim" of bringing down his government.

"If the prosecutors don't like a law then they challenge it and it gets rejected by the courts," he said.

"We are in the hands of this band of Taliban, today our democracy is in this situation."

He described the Mills case as "an invention, pure and simple, absurd" and demanded "full absolution" for himself.

Mr Berlusconi faces regional elections next month which are seen by many as a test for his centre-right government.

In addition to the bribery trial relating to Mr Mills, the Italian prime minister is on trial for tax fraud relating to his business dealings before he entered politics.

Italy's National Association of Magistrates condemned Mr Berlusconi's speech as "an intolerable escalation of insults and aggression", Reuters news agency reports.

Antonio Di Pietro, a former anti-corruption judge and now leader of the small opposition party, Italy of Values, was quoted by AFP as saying: "If Berlusconi was really innocent he would stand trial instead of running away and continuing to attack and insult the judiciary like a dictator in a light opera."

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France24 ITALY: Court postpones Berlusconi corruption trial until March - 25 hrs ago Berlusconi likens judges to Taliban - 35 hrs ago
Reuters India Berlusconi attacks "Taliban" Italian judiciary - 48 hrs ago Mills bribery conviction quashed - 25 Feb 2010
Sky News Case Against Minister's Husband Thrown Out - 25 Feb 2010

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