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Agence France-Presse
Rome, July 31, 2013
Italy's top court began crucial hearings for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday that could effectively end the billionaire tycoon's parliamentary career and upset the country's fragile coalition.

The Supreme Court is set to decide whether to confirm a one-year prison sentence and a five-year ban from politics in a long-running tax fraud case involving Berlusconi's media business interests.

"Judgment Day", reads a headline in Italy's top-selling Corriere della Sera daily, while La Stampa said in an editorial that the case was like "a giant boulder paralysing the entire political framework".

The final appeal hearing began on Tuesday but one of Berlusconi's lawyers told reporters that the verdict may come only on Wednesday or Thursday.

Outside the courtroom in central Rome, journalists crowded round anti-Berlusconi campaigner Gianfranco Mascia who said: "The law is equal for everyone".

"This constitutional principle should be valid for everyone and especially for Berlusconi," he said.