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Berlusconi vows to battle on despite court blow

Silvio Berlusconi angrily vowed to battle on as Italy's prime minister despite facing corruption trials after the Constitutional Court stripped his immunity from prosecution.

world Updated: Oct 08, 2009 18:05 IST

Silvio Berlusconi angrily vowed to battle on as Italy's prime minister despite facing corruption trials after the Constitutional Court stripped his immunity from prosecution.

Italian newspapers said on Thursday there was now political war between Berlusconi, who is also under attack over sex scandal allegations, and President Giorgio Napolitano who has insisted he will defend the country's constitution.

After the court's bombshell ruling against him, Berlusconi said the trials he now risks were "real farces." He slammed the Constitutional Court as "left wing" and stood with a clenched fist, declared: "Viva Italy, Viva Berlusconi!"

Berlusconi questioned the president's impartiality, said the Italian press was "72 percent left-wing" and made it clear he would not quit.

"We must govern for five years with or without the law," said the 73-year-old conservative tycoon who insisted that he had the support of 70 percent of Italian people.

Berlusconi's cabinet and his main political ally, Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, closed ranks behind the premier. But pressure is now mounting on Berlusconi after the Constitutional Court cancelled a law his government passed last year that gives him immunity from prosecution while in office.

The judges ruled that the law -- which gives immunity to the prime minister, president and heads of the two parliament chambers -- infringed the principle that all citizens are equal.

Berlusconi now faces at least two legal battles.

In one case, the conservative premier is accused of paying his British former tax lawyer, David Mills, 600,000 dollars (400,000 euros) to give false evidence in two trials in the 1990s.

Mills has appealed against a guilty verdict made in February, when he was sentenced to four and a half years in jail.

Another case involves allegations that Berlusconi's Mediaset television empire inflated figures for the purchase of broadcasting rights in order to create slush funds.

La Stampa newspaper said Berlusconi has up to 11 suspended trials "hanging over his head."

At the weekend another court ruled that his Fininvest holding company must pay 750 million euros (one billion dollars) to a rival media group.

He was found "co-responsible" for the bribery of a judge who decided in favour of the holding company during its takeover battle with Compagnie Industriali Riunite for the Mondadori publishing house.

Corriere della Sera newspaper said that Berlusconi has taken a "calculated risk" in trying to get public backing to take on Italy's courts and President Napolitano -- the country's main institutions.

Repubblica newspaper said that Berlusconi's angry response to the ruling "was an act of desperation, but also proof of the institutional instability of this leader."

Berlusconi has faced multiple battles with the law since he burst onto the political scene in the mid-1990s. He has faced charges including corruption, tax fraud, false accounting and illegally financing political parties.

No definitive conviction has ever been made.

Scandals such as Berlusconi's relationship with an 18-year-old woman -- which caused his wife to seek a divorce -- and an allegation that he spent a night with a call girl have dominated headlines in recent months.

Analysts believe Wednesday's court ruling further weakens Berlusconi.

"The ferocity of Berlusconi's attacks is a sign of weakness," said Giacomo Marramao, a Rome-based political philosophy professor. He said the prime minister's "public image was seriously dented by the media hype" over the call girl allegations and his relationship with the teenage model.